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Research into Barrett’s oesophagus

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.

Researchers are looking at the causes, diagnosis and treatment of Barrett's oesophagus.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for Barret's oesophagus in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Research into the causes of Barrett’s oesophagus

Genes

Researchers have identified some gene changes that they think are important in the development of Barret’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.

Researchers are also looking into why some people develop oesophageal cancer and others don’t.

Obesity

Researchers have looked at whether being very overweight increases your risk of Barrett’s oesophagus.

They found that although some people with Barrett’s oesophagus were normal weight, more people who were overweight had the condition. And this was highest in the people whose fat was mainly around their waist (abdominal obesity). 

The team concluded that abdominal obesity is a high risk factor for developing Barrett’s oesophagus. This adds to the importance of health promotion programmes which help people to lose weight and manage their diet. 

Research into diagnosing and screening for Barrett's oesophagus

Cytosponge

Doctors are looking at a new test called a cytosponge. 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.

Researchers want to find out how well it works as a screening tool for Barrett's oesophagus.

This video shows you what happens during the test. The video 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 at new ways of doing endoscopies. This includes:

  • using an endoscpe with a special filter that using blue or green light to show up tissue changes 
  • passing a special microscope down the endoscope to help doctors see cell changes 

The researchers hope that they can find easier ways to diagnose Barrett’s oesophagus.

Research into treatment for Barrett's oesophagus

Radio waves

One of the treatments researchers are looking at is heat from radio waves to destroy any abnormal cells. This is called radiofrequency ablation.

The treatment is for people with Barrett’s oesophagus or abnormal changes to squamous cells in the food pipe (squamous dysplasia).

Medicines to prevent cancer

Researchers have looked at using drugs to prevent oesophageal cancer. They tested aspirin combined with a drug called esomeprazole. This is a type of drug that reduces the amount of stomach acid.

The researchers found that the combination of high dose esomeprazole and aspirin could help prevent oesophageal cancer in people with Barrett’s oesophagus.

Research into monitoring Barrett's oesophagus

Taking tissues samples

People with Barrett's have regular endoscopies to check inside the oesophagus. for growths or abnormal looking areas. Your doctor might also take a sample (a biopsy ) of any abnormal looking tissues.

Doctors are looking at:

  • using a spray during endoscopy to show up abnormal areas
  • a new type of biopsy called an optical biopsy

Information and help