Find out about research into Barrett’s oesophagus, including screening, causes and treatment.
Barrett’s oesophagus means that some cells in the lining of your foodpipe have started to change. In a small number of people, these changes can develop into oesophageal cancer.
Research into screening for Barrett's oesophagus
This is a new screening tool for people with a high risk of developing Barrett’s oesophagus. People swallow a sponge on a string. Then the nurse pulls the sponge out. As it passes up the oesophagus it collects samples from the lining. This is uncomfortable but not painful.
Early research results were promising. So, our researchers are doing a larger trial to find out
- how well it works as a screening tool
- whether they can pick up cell changes that could develop into cancer in people who have Barrett’s oeosphagus
- if there are markers that show which people are at a higher risk of developing cancer from Barrett’s oesophagus
This video shows you what happens during the test. It is 1 minute 19 seconds long.
Voiceover: Researchers are looking into screening for Barrett’s oesophagus. You swallow a small capsule like this one; it contains a small sponge called a Cytosponge
Nurse: So, I want you to put the Sponge as far back, to the back of throat.
Nurse: Take a nice gulp of water and swallow. After 5 minutes what we do is just gently pull it back, and you might feel it scratches the back of your throat.
Nurse: Some patients have said it feels like a brillo pad but most patients can tolerate it very well.
Voiceover: The outer capsule dissolves in about 5 minutes
Nurse: Let me check in your mouth...that’s ok...so I just press the timer for 5 minutes
Nurse: I want you to just keep your head nice and still for me if you can
Voiceover: As the nurse pulls the sponge out it collects cells from the lining of your oesophagus
Nurse: I will just show you what you just swallowed
Voiceover: The sponge now goes to the lab to see if the cells show signs of Barrett’s.
People with Barrett’s oesophagus usually have regular endoscopies. During the endoscopy the doctor takes samples of tissue from the oesophagus. Researchers are looking into
- an optical biopsy to find out if it is as good as a normal biopsy
- finding out how often to monitor people with Barrett’s oesophagus
- an endoscopy called endoscopic Tri-Modal Imaging that uses special lights to find changes in the oesophagus
Blood tests to monitor people
Researchers want to find out at what stage of cancer development DNA changes show up in the blood. This may be a better way to check people than an endoscopy.
Research into the causes of Barrett’s oesophagus
Gene changes could be important in the development of Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer. Researchers are looking into why some people develop it and others don’t.
Researchers are looking into whether being obese increases your risk of Barrett’s oesophagus. Understanding whether there is a link might help to find ways to reduce the risk.
Research into treatment for Barrett’s oesophagus
Researchers are looking at ways of treating Barrett’s oesophagus that can help stop oesophageal cancer developing. They’re researching
Light therapy (PDT)
This uses light to kill abnormal cells to stop cancer from developing.
Endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD)
This is a new way for doctors to take away the abnormal area of the oesophagus using an endoscopy. They remove all of the abnormal area with a clear margin of healthy tissue around it.
Doctors are looking into whether drugs could prevent cancer developing from Barrett's oesophagus.
They are looking at whether taking esomeprazole on its own is better than taking it with aspirin. Esomeprazole reduces the amount of acid the stomach makes.
Research in the USA is using liquid nitrogen to freeze the abnormal cells before they can become cancerous. This looks promising but we need more research to confirm that it works.
Heat treatment works by gently burning the abnormal tissue and allowing the lining to heal. Research is comparing 2 heat treatments, radiofrequency ablation and argon plasma coagulation.