June 14, 2024

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AGA Clinical Guideline Stresses Patient Preferences in Barrett’s Treatment

5 min read

The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) has released updated evidence-based recommendations on the endoscopic eradication therapy (EET) of Barrett’s esophagus (BE) and related neoplasms.

Published in Gastroenterology , the clinical practice guideline makes five main recommendations — one strong and four conditional — based on very low to moderate evidence. It also stresses that providers should practice shared decision making according to patient preferences and risk perception.

For the most part, the new guideline is not a significant departure from the way expert endoscopists are currently practicing EET for BE and related neoplasia, gastroenterologist Joel H. Rubenstein, MD, MSc, AGAF, of the Barrett’s Esophagus Program in the Division of Gastroenterology at University of Michigan Medical School at Ann Arbor, said in an interview. One of three first authors of the guideline, Dr. Rubenstein added, “There is, however, considerable variability in how endoscopists practice, and we hope this guidance will serve as a useful resource to refer to for best practices.”

Added gastroenterologist Tarek Sawas, MD, MPH, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, “We hope the update will provide some clarity for practice and for implementation, while allowing gastroenterologists the freedom to decide what is best for patients based on lesion characteristics.”

Dr. Sawas added that one of the differences in the new guideline relates to the approach to low-grade dysplasia. While earlier guidance favored treatment over surveillance, patient preferences should now be factored into management. “Some patients are risk-averse and prefer to wait and watch, while others place more value on treatment and just want to get on with it,” he said.

When this guideline was circulated for public comment, “the areas prompting the most feedback was on our current suggestions against the routine use of EET in non-dysplastic BE and for the use of either endoscopic mucosal resection [EMR] or endoscopic submucosal dissection [ESD] for resection — with the expectation that the vast majority may be managed with EMR,” Dr. Rubenstein said.

“We felt that ESD would work best for larger lesions,” explained Dr. Sawas. “There aren’t a lot data in this area, just some observational studies, but we should have more data for comparison in the next few years.”

The incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma continues to rise and an update was deemed in order since the AGA’s last formal guidance on this subject using the systematic GRADE (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation) methodology was issued in 2011. “In the following time span, there’s been a lot of research, particularly with regard to management of low-grade dysplasia and endoscopic resection techniques,” Dr. Rubenstein said.

Key Recommendations

The 14 guideline panelists made the following suggestions for treatment and implementation based on different levels of certainty of evidence (CoE):

1. If high-grade dysplasia (HGD) is present, EET is recommended over surveillance, with subsequent surveillance performed at 3, 6, and 12 months, and annually thereafter. (Strong recommendation, moderate CoE).

Surveillance endoscopies should obtain targeted tissue samples of visible lesions and random biopsies of the cardia and distal 2 cm of the tubular esophagus.

2. In patients with low-grade dysplasia, EET is also preferred to surveillance. But for those placing a higher value on the certain harms and a lower value on the uncertain benefits of EET for reducing mortality, surveillance endoscopy is a reasonable option. (Conditional recommendation, low CoE).

Following EET, clinicians should perform surveillance at years 1 and 3 after complete eradication of intestinal metaplasia, then revert to the surveillance intervals used in non-dysplastic BE.

3. For non-dysplastic BE, the AGA advises against the routine use of EET. (Conditional recommendation, low CoE).

4. Patients undergoing EET should have resection of visible lesions followed by ablation of the remaining BE segment rather than resection of the entire segment.

In patients with only a small area of BE beyond the visible lesion, endoscopic resection is acceptable and may be preferred over repeated ablation. Radiofrequency ablation is the preferred ablative modality. (Conditional recommendation, very low CoE).

5. For treating visible neoplastic lesions the AGA suggests either EMR or ESD based on lesion characteristics. (Conditional recommendation, very low CoE).

Patients with suspected T1 esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC) should be considered for EET. Endoscopic resection is recommended over endoscopic ultrasound for distinguishing EAC from HGD and for staging depth of invasion.

The vast majority of neoplastic lesions may be managed with EMR rather than ESD. Patients who have bulky lesions, or lesions highly suspicious of at least T1b invasion and are deemed candidates for endoscopic resection might benefit from ESD over EMR. Those with previously failed EMR might benefit from ESD.

As to the generally low quality of the supporting evidence, Dr. Rubenstein said, “Unfortunately, very few decisions we make in medicine are supported by high certainty of evidence, but we still have to make a decision.” He pointed out that the guideline highlights areas for future research that could help strengthen or change the guideline’s recommendations.

Considering benefits and harms, the panelists concluded that overall CoE across critical desirable outcomes of disease progression to EAC was moderate. Patient-important outcomes informing the harms were strictures, major bleeding perforation, and serious adverse events.


The guidance also urges providers to counsel BE patients on tobacco cessation and weight loss if needed, and notes the specter of cancer may incentivize patients to make lifestyle changes.

The most common causes of death in EET patients are cardiovascular disease and other cancers, for which tobacco use and obesity are also major risk factors, and tobacco is associated with strictures, the panelists wrote. “The prospect of progression to cancer in patients with dysplastic BE often holds greater valence than prior counseling attempts, and patients may re-commit to such efforts following consultation for EET.”

Going Forward

Areas for future attention include:

  • Identifying populations with non-dysplastic BE whose risk warrants EET
  • Balancing risk and benefit of EET in low-grade dysplasia
  • Randomized controlled trials comparing EMR and ESD in higher-risk lesions
  • Optimal management of post-EET pain
  • Stricture prevention and control
  • Managing resistant/recurrent disease beyond reflux control
  • Optimal surveillance and biopsy strategies following EETThis guideline was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration Health Services and Research Division, and the Katy O. and Paul M. Rady Endowed Chair in Esophageal Cancer Research at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Sawas had no competing interests to disclose. Dr. Rubenstein reported research funding from Lucid Diagnostics.

Several other panelists reported research funding or consultation fees from various pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.


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