October 1st 2007
Barrett's esophagus represents replacement of normal distal esophageal squamous epithelium with specialized columnar epithelium containing goblet cells. Typically arising in the setting of chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, the presence of Barrett's esophagus carries a 50- to 100-fold increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. Risk factors include male sex, smoking history, obesity, Caucasian ethnicity, age > 50 and > 5-year history of reflux symptoms. Aggressive medical or surgical antireflux therapy may ameliorate symptoms, but have not yet been proven to affect the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma in randomized trials. Although dysplasia is an imperfect biomarker for the development of subsequent malignancy, random sampling of esophageal tissue for dysplasia remains the clinical standard. There have been no studies to establish that endoscopic screening/surveillance programs decrease the rates of death from cancer. Fit patients with Barrett's esophagus and high-grade dysplasia should undergo esophagectomy to prevent the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma. For non–operative candidates, endoscopic ablative approaches may represent a reasonable therapeutic alternative.