Barrett esophagus and risk of esophageal cancer: a clinical review

JAMA. 2013 Aug 14;310(6):627-36. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.226450.


Importance: Barrett esophagus, a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), predisposes patients to esophageal adenocarcinoma, a tumor that has increased in incidence more than 7-fold over the past several decades. Controversy exists regarding the issues of endoscopic screening and surveillance for Barrett esophagus, treatment for the underlying GERD, and the role of endoscopic eradication therapy.

Objectives: To review current concepts on the pathogenesis, diagnosis, and treatment of Barrett esophagus; to discuss the importance of dysplasia and the role of endoscopic eradication therapy for its treatment; and to review current management guidelines.

Evidence review: MEDLINE and the Cochrane Library were searched from 1984 to April 2013. Additional citations were obtained by reviewing references from selected research and review articles.

Findings: Risk factors for cancer in Barrett esophagus include chronic GERD, hiatal hernia, advanced age, male sex, white race, cigarette smoking, and obesity with an intra-abdominal body fat distribution. The annual risk of esophageal cancer is approximately 0.25% for patients without dysplasia and 6% for patients with high-grade dysplasia. High-quality studies have found no significant differences in cancer incidence for patients with Barrett esophagus whose GERD is treated medically or surgically. Endoscopic eradication therapy with radiofrequency ablation significantly reduces the frequency of progression to cancer for patients with high-grade dysplasia.

Conclusions and relevance: Endoscopic screening is recommended for patients with multiple risk factors for cancer in Barrett esophagus. For patients with Barrett esophagus without dysplasia, endoscopic surveillance at intervals of 3 to 5 years is recommended, and GERD is treated much as it is for patients without Barrett esophagus. Endoscopic eradication therapy is the treatment of choice for high-grade dysplasia and is an option for low-grade dysplasia. Endoscopic eradication therapy is not recommended for the general population of patients with nondysplastic Barrett esophagus.

Publication types

  • Clinical Conference
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Barrett Esophagus* / diagnosis
  • Barrett Esophagus* / etiology
  • Barrett Esophagus* / therapy
  • Early Detection of Cancer
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Esophagoscopy
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / therapy
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors