Esophageal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Prevention - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Evidence of Benefit
Radiofrequency Ablation in Dysplastic Barrett Esophagus
A randomized controlled trial  assessed whether, among persons with Barrett esophagus and dysplasia, radiofrequency ablation (vs. sham ablation) could eradicate dysplastic Barrett esophagus and decrease the rate of neoplastic progression. Among persons with low-grade dysplasia, eradication of dysplasia occurred in 90.5% of the treatment group compared to 22.7% in the control group; in the high-grade dysplasia group, rates were 81.0% compared to 19.0%. Additionally, 77.4% of persons in the ablation group had complete eradication of intestinal metaplasia, compared to 2.3% in the control group. Persons in the ablation group had less disease progression, and although cancer was not a primary outcome because expected numbers were small, there were fewer cancers in the ablation group (1.2% vs. 9.3%; P = .045). The complication rate was relatively low; among 84 treated persons, there was one upper gastrointestinal hemorrhage and five strictures that were easily treated.
This study suggests that treatment of Barrett with dysplasia may ablate Barrett esophagus and prevent disease progression, but the study provides only weak evidence (indeed, it was not designed to answer) about whether treatment reduces the outcome of esophageal cancer. Evidence from the study suggests that ablation does not simply coagulate and hide dangerous cells under the surface of the esophagus (those cells could later evolve to cancer). A question entirely separate from this study is whether patients should or should not be screened for Barrett esophagus (this study focused on treatment of persons with Barrett who had been identified as having dysplasia). Furthermore, the study does not discuss the net benefits and harms of an overall program of screening (e.g., of screening persons with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or certain GERD symptoms) and the surveillance of persons with Barrett. The potential for overdiagnosis and overtreatment may be considerable, if physicians used results of this study to treat persons with Barrett esophagus and no dysplasia.
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