Esophageal adenocarcinoma is increasing in incidence and has a high mortality unless detected early. Barrett's esophagus is the only known risk factor for this cancer; however, whether endoscopic surveillance reduces morbidity and mortality is controversial. Endoscopic cancer surveillance programes for Barrett's esophagus are not routinely practiced in the UK, and this is the first study to examine whether a rigorous surveillance protocol increases the detection rate of early oesophageal cancer. All patients with a diagnosis of Barrett's esophagus or associated adenocarcinoma attending Havering Hospitals NHS Trust between 1992 and 1998 were included. A retrospective analysis was made of patients undergoing informal surveillance (96 patients, 1992-1997) and a prospective analysis was conducted following the implementation of a rigorous protocol (108 patients, 1997-1998). Over the same time periods Barrett's associated cancers diagnosed in patients not undergoing surveillance were analyzed (262 patients 1992-1997, 98 patients 1997-1998). From 1992 to 1997, one case of high-grade dysplasia was detected (N = 96, 1%). From 1997 to 1998, two cancers and three high-grade dysplasias were detected during rigorous surveillance (N = 108, 4.6%). Three of these patients have had curative esophagectomies (one high-grade dysplasia and two T1,N0,M0 tumors). In 1992-1997, 10 patients were found to have cancer in previously undiagnosed Barrett's esophagus (N = 262, 3.8%). Of 3/10 cancers treated surgically, one patient had a curative procedure (T1,N0,M0). In 1997-1998, nine patients were found to have de novo Barrett's esophagus cancer (N = 88, 10.2%) and three had curative resections (T1,N0,M0). Two of the patients with T1 lesions had no endoscopic evidence of cancer but were detected as a result of the multiple biopsy protocol. In conclusion, a rigorous biopsy protocol increases the detection of early cancer in Barrett's esophagus.