OBJECTIVE: Barrett's esophagus (BE) is a premalignant condition for which regular endoscopic follow-up is usually advised. We evaluated the incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma (AC) in patients with BE and the impact of endoscopic surveillance on mortality from AC. METHODS: A cohort of newly diagnosed BE patients was studied prospectively. Endoscopic and histological surveillance was recommended every 2 yr. Follow-up status was determined from hospital and registry office records and telephone calls to the patients. RESULTS: From 1987 to 1997, BE was diagnosed in 177 patients. We excluded three with high-grade dysplasia (HGD) at the time of enrollment. Follow-up was complete in 166 patients (135 male, 31 female). The mean length of endoscopic follow-up was 5.5 yr (range 0.5-13.3). Low-grade dysplasia (LGD) was present initially in 16 patients (9.6%) and found during follow-up in another 24 patients. However, in 75% of cases, LGD was not confirmed on later biopsies. HGD was found during surveillance in three patients (1.8%), one with simultaneous AC; two with HGD developed AC later. AC was detected in five male patients during surveillance. The incidence of AC was 1/220 (5/1100) patient-years of total follow-up, or 1/183.6 (5/918) patient-years in subjects undergoing endoscopy. Four AC patients died, and one was alive with advanced-stage tumor. The mean number of endoscopies performed for surveillance, rather than for symptoms, was 2.4 (range 1-10) per patient. During the follow-up years the cohort had a total of 528 examinations and more than 4000 biopsies. CONCLUSIONS: The incidence of AC in BE is low, confirming recent data from the literature reporting an overestimation of cancer risk in these patients. In our patient cohort, surveillance involved a large expenditure of effort but did not prevent any cancer deaths. The benefit of surveillance remains uncertain.
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