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According to an article recently published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, individuals with Barrett’s esophagus (BE) have an increased incidence of esophageal cancer and death from the disease. Patients with BE may benefit from screening for the early detection of esophageal cancer.

The esophagus is a tube that connects the back of the mouth to the stomach. In BE the lining of the esophagus contains cells that appear abnormal under a microscope; these cells are considered to be precursors to esophageal cancer.

Patients diagnosed with BE typically undergo regular screening for esophageal cancer with scheduled endoscopy procedures. An endoscopy involves placement of a lighted tube down a patient’s throat and through the esophagus, which allows a physician to visually inspect the lining of the esophagus and remove suspicious looking tissue.

Because cure rates for esophageal cancer are poor once the cancer has spread from its site of origin, preventing its development is an appealing approach for high-risk patients.

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Researchers from England, Jordan, and New Zealand recently conducted a clinical study to evaluate the outcomes of patients with BE. This study included 502 patients with BE at Leeds General Infirmary, England.

  • Risks for developing esophageal cancer were significantly increased for patients with BE.
  • Risks of death from esophageal cancer were significantly increased for patients with BE.
  • Death from diseases of the digestive system were also increased among patients with BE.

The researchers conclude: “This study has shown evidence of an increased risk of esophageal cancer incidence and mortality in BE.”

Patients with BE may wish to discuss their individual risks and benefits of screening schedules with their physician.

Reference: Cook M, Wild C, Everett S, et al. Risk of mortality and cancer incidence in Barrett’s Esophagus. Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. 2007;16:2090-2096.