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
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.
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
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.
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 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
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