The incidence of Barrett's esophagus (BE) and esophageal adenocarcinoma has increased in Western countries in recent decades. The aim of this study is to describe the changes in incidence and prevalence of BE diagnosis, dysplasia, and adenocarcinoma development in BE patients in a South-European Mediterranean area. Retrospective population-based analyses of endoscopy and pathology reports from 1976 to 2001 was performed. Data from patients with diagnosis of BE and/or esophageal carcinoma were collected. The study period was divided in four quartiles for statistical calculations; parametric and nonparametric tests were used. A 6.9-fold increase was found in the diagnosis of long-segment BE from the first to the fourth quartile, and a 9.3-fold increase in short-segment BE from 1995 to 2000, in contrast to a much smaller increase of 1.9-fold increase in the number of upper gastrointestinal endoscopies. The adjusted incidence of BE diagnosis increased from 0.73 to 9.73 cases/100,000 (first to fourth quartile, respectively) and the adjusted prevalence from 6.51 to 76.04 cases/100,000 (1985-2001). The incidence of dysplasia was 2.13% per year (95% confidence interval: 0.05-11.3%) - 1.78% for low-grade dysplasia and 0.36% for high-grade dysplasia - giving a total incidence of 1 per 47 patient-years. The incidence of adenocarcinoma during follow-up was 0.48% per year (95% confidence interval: 0.006-2.62%), for an incidence of 1 per 210 patient-years. Nineteen patients with BE (14 long-segment BE, 5 short-segment BE) were diagnosed with esophageal adenocarcinoma, with eight being diagnosed during endoscopic surveillance. Only 14 (8%) adenocarcinoma patients diagnosed during the study period had a history of BE. BE diagnosis has dramatically increased over recent decades in our population, unrelated to an increase in endoscopies. Progression to low-grade dysplasia and adenocarcinoma is rare. Surveillance may have a low impact on the survival of adenocarcinoma patients in Southern Europe.