Esophageal Metaplasia and Neoplasia

Esophageal cancer accounts for a jaw-dropping amount of cancer-related deaths, and is now classified as the 6th-highest cause of death in this group.  In this installment of the study guide series, I will discuss Barrett Esophagus (I learned this entity as Barrett Metaplasia) and esophageal cancer (neoplasia).


Barrett Metaplasia

  • Metaplasia:  columnar epithelium replaces the physiologic squamous epithelium in the distal portion of the food pipe.
    • Cancer risk of 0.5% per year in those who have Barrett Esophagus.
    • Usual pathway (if progresses to ca):  intestinal metaplasia –> low-grade dysplasia –> high-grade dysplasia.
  • NO evidence that routine screening for BE based on GERD symptoms is helpful.
  • Clinically:
    • Think of this in an older obese white male with chronic reflux and a history of chain-smoking.
    • Protective = average wine consumption, fruits/veggies.
    • Barrett Esophagus occurs in the presence or absence of reflux!
  • Diagnosis:
    • Upper endoscopy showing typical intestinal metaplasia of distal esophagus.
      • Salmon-colored mucosa
      • Further classifications:  Short segment (< 3cm) or long segment (> 3cm)
  • Treatment:
    • PPI are useful for reflux symptom improvement, not preventing progression to dysplasia.
    • HIGH-grade dysplasia = destroy bad tissue with radiofrequency ablation or other resection.
  • Surveillance
    • EGD is primary modality.
    • Based on dysplasia grade:
      • none = repeat EGD 3-5 years.
      • low-grade = repeat EGD 6-12 months
      • high-grade = look for focal lesions, which may harbor more progressive disease; repeat EGD q3 months with resection/surgery.

Esophageal Carcinoma

  • Adenocarcinoma is most common type (#1) in US; SCC is also very common.
  • Typically presents in males, aged 50-60’s.
  • 5-year survival rate 15-25%, depending on stage at presentation.
  • Risk factors:
    • Adenocarcinoma = GERD, Barrett metaplasia, tobacco, radiation, male, old age, poor diet.
    • SCC = tobacco and alcohol, direct toxic injury, Zn and selenium deficiency, prior radiation to region, poor population, poor oral hygiene, HPV, nitrosamine exposure (occupational hazards), nonepidermolytic palmoplantar keratoderma.
  • Diagnosis:
    • #1 symptom = SOLID-food dysphagia
    • Weight loss, low appetite, low hemoglobin/hematocrit.
    • EGD is best way to diagnose.
    • Squamous Cell Carcinoma is proximal
    • Adenocarcinoma is distal
    • CT scan is useful to evaluate for metastatic disease; PET used for questionable lesions.
  • Treatment
    • Refer to Oncology, resection versus chemotherapy is stage dependent at time of diagnosis.


  • ACP MKSAP 17:  Gastroenterology and Hepatology, pgs. 9-12
  • Image source:’s_esophagus
    • Intestinal metaplasia consistent with Barrett esophagus (left side of main image) and normal stratified squamous epithelium (right side), Alcian blue stain.

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