Are ulcers a marker for invasive carcinoma in Barrett's esophagus? Data from a diagnostic variability study with clinical follow-up

Am J Gastroenterol. 2002 Jan;97(1):27-31. doi: 10.1111/j.1572-0241.2002.05420.x.


Objectives: We correlated follow-up information from 138 patients with Barrett's esophagus and varying degrees of dysplasia with the presence of ulcers.

Methods: A group of pathologist participants were asked to contribute patients' initial biopsy slides showing Barrett's esophagus (BE) without dysplasia and with epithelial changes indefinite for dysplasia, low grade dysplasia (LGD), high grade dysplasia (HGD), and adenocarcinoma. From the initial 250 cases used for a diagnostic reproducibility study, follow-up information was available for 138 patients.

Results: There were 44 cases submitted as BE, 22 as BE with epithelial changes indefinite for dysplasia, 26 as BE with LGD, 33 as BE with HGD, and 13 as BE with adenocarcinoma. Ulcers were present in 35/138 cases (25%), including 3/44 cases of BE without dysplasia (7%), 2/22 cases of BE with epithelial changes indefinite for dysplasia (9%), 0/26 cases of BE with LGD (0%), 10/33 cases of BE with HGD (30%), and 7/13 cases of BE with adenocarcinoma (54%). On follow-up, there were no invasive carcinomas detected among the BE without dysplasia group (median follow-up = 38.5 months). Adenocarcinomas were detected in 4/22 cases (18%) submitted as BE with epithelial changes indefinite for dysplasia at 19, 55, 60, and 62 months and in 4/26 cases (15%) of BE with LGD at 9, 9, 11, and 60 months. None of these carcinomas occurred in cases in which an ulcer was present in the initial biopsy specimen. Among the 33 HGD cases, 20 (60%) were found to have adenocarcinoma on subsequent resection specimens. The presence of an ulcer with HGD increased the likelihood of finding carcinoma in the resection specimen, as 8/10 biopsies (80%) of HGD patients with ulcers had carcinoma, compared to 12/23 biopsies (52%) of HGD patients without ulcers. All of the cases interpreted as adenocarcinomas on biopsy were found either to have invasive carcinoma on esophageal resection or to have metastases that were demonstrated in unresectable patients.

Conclusion: If an ulcer accompanies HGD in a biopsy specimen from a patient with BE, it is likely that invasive carcinoma is also present at that time.

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / complications
  • Adenocarcinoma / pathology*
  • Barrett Esophagus / complications
  • Barrett Esophagus / pathology*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Culture Techniques
  • Esophagitis, Peptic / complications
  • Esophagitis, Peptic / pathology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Invasiveness / pathology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers, Tumor