Background: The reported incidence of adenocarcinoma in patients with Barrett's oesophagus in surveillance programmes varies widely. Great Britain has one of the highest incidence rates of this cancer in the world, but there are no data from Ireland reporting its incidence in patients with Barrett's oesophagus undergoing surveillance. We carried out a study of all such patients at a large District General Hospital in Northern Ireland.
Methods: A retrospective review of all patients with Barrett's oesophagus from January 1986 to March 2004 at Altnagelvin Area Hospital, Derry, Northern Ireland was performed. Barrett's oesophagus was defined as specialized intestinal metaplasia present in the tubular oesophagus.
Results: A total of 277 patients had Barrett's oesophagus. Twenty-one patients had adenocarcinoma and two patients had high-grade dysplasia at initial endoscopy and were excluded. Of the remaining 254 patients, 178 were entered into the surveillance programme (127 men, 51 women). The average follow-up period was 3.4 years, resulting in 613 patient-years of follow-up. Three patients developed adenocarcinoma, an incidence of 1/204 patient-years of follow-up. Two of the three patients had early-stage (T1 or T2) cancers detected and are alive and well. A total of 429 surveillance endoscopies were performed, and a marked year-on-year increase in the workload generated as a result of the surveillance programme was observed.
Conclusions: The incidence of adenocarcinoma in patients in Northern Ireland was similar to the incidence reported by other large institutions. Clinical benefit is suggested but is not certain from these data, because of biases that affect surveillance programmes. Large multicentre studies are required to determine whether surveillance is beneficial.