Barrett’s Esophagus –refer to cardiology?

According to a study which examined cause-specific mortality, patients with Barrett’s esophagus may be better off following up with a cardiologist than a gastroenterologist (Gastroenterol 2013; 144: 1375-83).

This study derived data from UK’s Clinical Practice Research Datalink.  8448 patients with Barrett’s esophagus were matched with 155,212 controls based on age, sex and general practice.

Key findings:

  • Patients with BE had increased risk of death from esophageal cancer leading to a 10-year risk of 1.9%.  The absolute mortality rate due to esophageal cancer was 1.44 per 1000 person-years.  Compared to the general population, this was a 4.5 fold relative increase.
  • Ischemic heart disease resulted in 168 patient deaths, nearly 4-fold the number that died of esophageal cancer.
  • Overall, individuals with Barrett’s esophagus had a 21% relative increased risk of all causes of death; the majority were not due to esophageal cancer.  32% were related to circulatory disorders, 24% were due to nonesophageal cancer, and 15% were due to respiratory disease.

While this was a large study, there remain several limitations; most of these are due to reliance on electronic records for the diagnosis of Barrett’s.  Also, some individuals with Barrett’s may have been identified due to other high risk conditions such as cirrhosis (endoscopy for varicose) which could contribute to excess mortality.  In addition, many controls likely had undiagnosed Barrett’s.  Even the attribution of the cause of death can be quite difficult, especially with a database study.

Nevertheless, the population-based setting likely means that the results are likely meaningful to a broad population.

Take-home message: While Barrett’s esophagus increases the risk of death from esophageal cancer, it is possible that strategies which focus on nonesophageal causes of death may be more effective than esophageal surveillance for increasing longevity.

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