Barrett's oesophagus: optimal strategies for prevention and treatment

Drugs. 2003;63(6):555-64. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200363060-00003.


Barrett's oesophagus is a change in the lining of the distal oesophagus recognised at endoscopy and documented to have intestinal metaplasia by biopsy. It is thought that it is an acquired condition resulting from chronic gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Barrett's oesophagus has the potential to progress to adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus. Evidence to support the association between Barrett's oesophagus and GORD appears to be strong but circumstantial. The intermediate steps that lead from GORD to Barrett's oesophagus are speculative and the timeline for the development of this condition remains obscure. It has yet to be demonstrated that erosive oesophagitis is a necessary intermediate step for the development of Barrett's oesophagus. In spite of effective therapy, documentation that medical or surgical therapy prevents Barrett's oesophagus is lacking. The goal of screening for Barrett's oesophagus is ultimately to improve the survival of patients with adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus. This goal has not been achieved and the evidence-based criteria for screening remain to be defined. Medical and surgical therapy of Barrett's oesophagus is effective in controlling reflux, although not proven to prevent neoplastic progression of the at risk mucosa. Endoscopic techniques of mucosal injury have been applied as alternatives to oesophagectomy in efforts to prevent progression to cancer. Surveillance endoscopy and biopsy is the currently accepted method aimed at early intervention and improved survival for oesophageal adenocarcinoma. A working surveillance protocol to accomplish this is proposed based on dysplasia grade. If no dysplasia is found and confirmed with subsequent endoscopy and biopsy, a 3-year interval is recommended. If only low grade dysplasia is confirmed, then annual endoscopy until no dysplasia is recognised is recommended. On the basis of defined risk factors, high grade dysplasia can lead to intense surveillance every 3 months or an intervention. Future developments in understanding the biology of Barrett's oesophagus and in therapeutic interventions will provide an opportunity for more effective screening, surveillance and prevention of neoplastic progression.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / etiology
  • Adenocarcinoma / prevention & control
  • Barrett Esophagus / drug therapy
  • Barrett Esophagus / etiology
  • Barrett Esophagus / prevention & control*
  • Barrett Esophagus / surgery
  • Disease Progression
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / prevention & control
  • Histamine H2 Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Proton Pumps / therapeutic use


  • Histamine H2 Antagonists
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors
  • Proton Pumps