New Barrett’s esophagus guideline reduces reliance on endoscopy


A swallowable, capsule-sponge device used to sample biomarkers offers a reliable, noninvasive alternative to endoscopy for diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus, according to a new guideline from the American College of Gastroenterology.

In addition, the guideline recommends that patients with Barrett’s esophagus with segments of less than 3 cm be screened every 5 years, but if their Barrett’s esophagus segments are 5 cm or greater, they should be screened every 3 years.

“We don’t want to scope everyone for the lowest risk of cancer,” lead author Nicholas J. Shaheen, MD, MPH, chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, told this news organization.

“The traditional way to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus is by upper endoscopy, but it’s expensive and not available everywhere,” he said. “One big change since the last iteration of this guideline is that there’s been a development of nonendoscopic screening modalities.”

The guideline was published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Progress with swallowable devices

Solid evidence supports the Cytosponge, a capsule containing a compressed spherical polyurethane sponge attached to a string. The sponge expands to a sphere when the capsule dissolves after being swallowed, Dr. Shaheen said.

When withdrawn, the sponge contains esophageal cytology samples that can be used to identify biomarkers for Barrett’s esophagus, either the protein trefoil factor 3 expressed in intestinal metaplasia or methylated DNA markers associated with Barrett’s esophagus mucosa.

More than 90% of participants in trials have been able to swallow the device. Some mild gagging or throat discomfort has been reported.

In one trial, patients with chronic reflux were randomly assigned to either swallow the Cytosponge or be screened by endoscopy based on the practitioner’s usual care. Any diagnosis with the Cytosponge was confirmed with endoscopy. Barrett’s esophagus was found in 2% of patients who had undergone the Cytosponge procedure, versus less than 1% of those screened in the usual way. Of the 6,834 patients in the Cytosponge group, nine were diagnosed with dysplastic Barrett’s esophagus or stage I esophagogastric cancer, versus none of the 6,388 participants in the usual-care group.

“At least for now, we’re using the same guidance that we used for endoscopy to decide who might be best served by these devices,” Dr. Shaheen said. “There are not good data to make a recommendation yet, but you could easily imagine how you could broaden screening guidelines by having a cheaper, more available test.”

Screening for esophageal cancer may one day be as common as screening for colon cancer, said Herbert C. Wolfsen, MD, a consultant in gastroenterology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, Rochester, Minn. He was not involved in writing the new guideline.

“We’ve known for years that at least half of patients with esophageal cancer have little, if any, reflux symptoms,” he told this news organization. “This is an area where the guidelines have been consistent, but I think we’re going to see them start to change.”

Additional recommendations

The expert panel of the new guideline held off on recommending the use of biomarkers more generally, deeming the evidence insufficient.


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