U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Definition and Facts for Barrett's Esophagus

What is Barrett's Esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine replaces the tissue lining your esophagus. Doctors call this process intestinal metaplasia.

Are people with Barrett’s esophagus more likely to develop cancer?

People with Barrett’s esophagus are more likely to develop a rare type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma in people with Barrett’s esophagus is about 0.5 percent per year.1 Typically, before this cancer develops, precancerous cells appear in the Barrett’s tissue. Doctors call this condition dysplasia and classify the dysplasia​ as low grade or high grade.

You may have Barrett’s esophagus for many years before cancer develops. Visit the National Cancer Institute to learn more about esophageal adenocarcinoma.

How common is Barrett’s esophagus?

Experts aren’t sure how common Barrett’s esophagus is. Researchers estimate that it affects 1.6 to 6.8 percent of people.2

Who is more likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus?​

Men develop Barrett’s esophagus twice as often as women, and Caucasian men develop this condition more often than men of other races.1 The average age at diagnosis is 55.3 Barrett’s esophagus is uncommon in children.3

1Johnston MH. Barrett esophagus. Medscape website. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/171002-overview#showall. Updated April 7, 2014. Accessed July 22, 2014.​

2Gilbert EW, Luna RA, Harrison VL, Hunter JG. Barrett’s esophagus: a review of the literature. Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery. 2011;15:708–718.

3Spechler SJ, Souza RF. Barrett esophagus and esophageal adenocarcinoma. In: Yamada T, ed. Textbook of Gastroenterology. Vol. 1. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell; 2009: 826–848.​​​​​​​​
November 2014​​​​