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Am Fam Physician. 2022;106(4):383-387

Related editorial: Emerging Roles for Family Physicians in Diagnosing and Treating Barrett Esophagus

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Author disclosure: No relevant financial relationships.

Barrett esophagus is a premalignant change of the esophagus; however, malignant transformation to esophageal adenocarcinoma is rare in patients without dysplasia. Barrett esophagus is estimated to affect up to 5.6% of the U.S. population. Risk factors for Barrett esophagus include gastroesophageal reflux disease, obesity, age older than 50 years, male sex, tobacco use, and a family history of Barrett esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma. Patients who experience chronic gastroesophageal reflux symptoms plus additional risk factors should be considered for screening. Mucosal change consistent with Barrett esophagus is visualized during upper endoscopy; biopsy confirms the diagnosis and determines if dysplasia is present. Management of Barrett esophagus depends on the presence and severity of dysplasia; endoscopic treatment of dysplasia decreases the risk of malignant transformation. Surveillance after diagnosis is recommended to monitor for dysplasia and diagnose and treat esophageal adenocarcinoma at an earlier stage. Patients with Barrett esophagus should be offered proton pump inhibitor therapy to control reflux symptoms and possibly decrease the risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma. Statins, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and aspirin are associated with a decreased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma in patients with Barrett esophagus; however, they should not generally be prescribed in the absence of another indication. Mortality benefits of screening and surveillance are uncertain.

Barrett esophagus is a premalignant change of the esophagus in which the normal squamous epithelium of the esophagus is replaced by metaplastic, columnar cells due to chronic reflux of acid and bile. This article reviews the best available patient-oriented evidence for the primary care of patients with Barrett esophagus.

RecommendationSponsoring organization
For a patient diagnosed with Barrett esophagus who has undergone a second endoscopy that confirms the absence of dysplasia on biopsy, a follow-up surveillance examination should not be performed in less than three years.American Gastroenterological Association


  • The estimated prevalence of Barrett esophagus, including asymptomatic patients, is up to 5.6% of the U.S. population, based on computer modeling.1

  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma is rare, accounting for 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.2

  • The prevalence of Barrett esophagus is based on several risk factors3:

    ○ Low-risk, general population = 0.8%

    ○ Obesity = 1.9%

    ○ Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) = 3%

    ○ Age older than 50 years = 6.1%

    ○ Male sex = 6.8%

    ○ GERD plus any additional risk factor = 12%

    ○ Family history of Barrett esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma = 23%

  • Risk factors for Barrett esophagus are listed in Table 1410; risks are more significant for patients with a longer duration of GERD and multiple risk factors.

  • Alcohol consumption does not increase the risk of Barrett esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma.11

  • One in 416 patients (0.24%) with Barrett esophagus may be diagnosed with esophageal adenocarcinoma per year12; however, a high-quality Danish study estimated a lower annual risk of one in 833 (0.12%).13

  • The risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma is higher in patients with Barrett esophagus with dysplasia12 (Table 21316).

Risk factorOdds ratio for developing Barrett esophagus (95% CI)
Onset of GERD before age 304 15.1 (7.9 to 28.8)
White Caucasian (self-identified)5 (relative to South Asian)6.03 (3.56 to 10.22)
Hiatal hernia6 3.94 (3.02 to 5.13)
GERD7 2.90 (1.86 to 4.54)
Male sex8 2.13 (1.87 to 2.46)
Central adiposity/obesity9 2.04 (1.44 to 2.90)
Tobacco use10 1.42 (1.15 to 1.76)
Age (per year)5 1.03 (1.02 to 1.03)
Patient groupProgression to esophageal cancer per year
Without dysplasia13,14 0.1% to 0.33%
With low-grade dysplasia15 0.5%
With high-grade dysplasia16 7%


  • There is no evidence from prospective studies that screening for Barrett esophagus in patients with GERD improves mortality or quality of life; therefore, Canadian and British guidelines recommend against universal screening for patients who have GERD.17,18

  • The American College of Gastroenterology acknowledges that evidence is insufficient, but based on expert consensus, suggests selective screening for Barrett esophagus in people with chronic or frequent GERD symptoms plus two additional risk factors, including age older than 50 years19 (Table 1410).

  • Women are at significantly lower risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma compared with men; selective screening should be based on the presence of multiple risk factors.19

  • Life expectancy and comorbidities should be considered before a decision to screen.19 In a large veteran cohort study, 31% of patients who were newly diagnosed with Barrett esophagus had a life expectancy of less than five years and were unlikely to benefit from detection and treatment.20

  • Several tools to assess individual patient risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma are modestly more predictive than GERD alone, although optimal referral threshold for the number and magnitude of individual risk factors is unknown.21

  • The HUNT ( and Kunzmann tools rely on information typically collected during office visits and are available online and in a published nomogram.2123

  • Screening for Barrett esophagus is done by sedated upper endoscopy.

  • Nonsedated transnasal endoscopy is a viable alternative but is not widely available.19

  • A swallowed capsule sponge device and breath testing have been studied for screening but are not validated and are not yet recommended as alternatives to upper endoscopy.19

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