Hypothesis Screening for esophageal adenocarcinoma has focused on identifying Barrett esophagus (BE) in patients with severe, long-standing symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Unfortunately, 95% of patients who develop esophageal adenocarcinoma are unaware of the presence of BE before their cancer diagnosis, which means they never had been selected for screening. One possible explanation is that no correlation exists between the severity of GERD symptoms and cancer risk. We hypothesize that severe GERD symptoms are not associated with an increase in the prevalence of BE, dysplasia, or cancer in patients undergoing primary endoscopic screening.
Design Cross-sectional study.
Setting University hospital.
Patients A total of 769 patients with GERD.
Interventions Primary screening endoscopy performed from November 1, 2004, through June 7, 2007.
Main Outcomes Measures Symptom severity, proton pump inhibitor therapy, and esophageal adenocarcinogenesis (ie, BE, dysplasia, or cancer).
Results Endoscopy revealed adenocarcinogenesis in 122 patients. An increasing number of severe GERD symptoms correlated positively with endoscopic findings of esophagitis (odds ratio, 1.05; 95% confidence interval, 1.01-1.09). Conversely, an increasing number of severe GERD symptoms were associated with decreased odds of adenocarcinogenesis (odds ratio, 0.94; 95% confidence interval, 0.89-0.98). Patients taking proton pump inhibitors were 61.3% and 81.5% more likely to have adenocarcinogenesis if they reported no severe typical or atypical GERD symptoms, respectively, compared with patients taking proton pump inhibitors, who reported that all symptoms were severe.
Conclusions Medically treated patients with mild or absent GERD symptoms have significantly higher odds of adenocarcinogenesis compared with medically treated patients with severe GERD symptoms. This finding may explain the failure of the current screening paradigm in which the threshold for primary endoscopic examination is based on symptom severity.