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Research into Barrett’s oesophagus

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

Cytosponge

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.

Endoscopy

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

Genes

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.

Obesity

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.

Drug treatments

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.

Freezing (cryotherapy)

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 treatments

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.

Last reviewed: 
05 May 2016
  • Aspirin and cancer risk: a quantitative review to 2011
    Ann Oncol. 2012 Jun;23(6):1403-15.
    Bosetti C and others.

  • Endoscopic treatment of high-grade dysplasia and early cancer in Barrett's oesophagus
    Conio M, Cameron AJ, Chak A, Blanchi S, Filiberti R.
    Lancet Oncol. 2005 May;6(5):311-21.

  • Endoscopic submucosal dissection of oesophageal dysplasia and neoplasia
    NICE interventional procedure guidance [IPG355] September 2010

  • Liquid nitrogen spray cryotherapy in Barrett's esophagus with high-grade dysplasia: long-term results.
    Gosain S and others
    Gastrointest Endosc. 2013 Aug;78(2):260-5.

  • Photodynamic therapy for Barrett's oesophagus
    NICE interventional procedure guidance, June 2010 - IPG350

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