Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your doctor determines whether you have Barrett's esophagus using a procedure called upper endoscopy to:

  • Examine your esophagus. Your doctor will pass a lighted tube (endoscope) down your throat. The tube carries a tiny camera that allows your doctor to examine your esophagus. Your doctor looks for signs that the esophageal tissue is changing. Normal esophagus tissue appears pale and glossy. A person with Barrett's esophagus has tissue that appears red and velvety.
  • Remove tissue samples. If the lining of your esophagus appears abnormal, your doctor may pass special tools through the endoscope to remove several small tissue samples. The samples are tested in a laboratory to determine what types of changes are taking place and how advanced the changes are.

Determining the degree of tissue changes

A doctor who specializes in examining tissue in a laboratory (pathologist) will examine your esophageal biopsy samples under a microscope. The pathologist determines the degree of changes (dysplasia) in your cells. Grades of dysplasia include:
  • No dysplasia. If no changes are found in the cells, the pathologist determines there is no dysplasia.
  • Low-grade dysplasia. Cells with low-grade dysplasia may show small signs of changes.
  • High-grade dysplasia. Cells with high-grade dysplasia show many changes. High-grade dysplasia is thought to be the final step before cells change into esophageal cancer.

The type of dysplasia detected in your esophageal tissue determines your treatment options.

May. 25, 2011