Medication used to treat Barrett’s Oesophagus


Patients with Barrett’s oesophagus are prescribed one proton-pump inhibitor per day. Proton pump inhibitors reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach, which help limit the damage of the oesophageal lining, and prevent the progression of disease to oesophageal cancer. (1)

Complete regression of Barrett’s oesophagus in patients taking PPIs is approximately 7% for short-segment Barrett’s oesophagus (<3cm) (2,3) and 2.5% for patients with long-segment Barrett’s oesophagus (>3cm) (3,4).

Several studies have indicated that compared to those not treated with PPIs, PPI therapy is associated with:

  • A lower incidence of dysplastic Barrett’s oesophagus disease, of any grade (5)
  • A lower incidence of oesophageal adenocarcinoma (6)
  • A delay in the progression of metaplasia to dysplasia (5,7)


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin have been linked with a reduced risk of Barrett’s progression to oesophageal adenocarcinoma (1,8). These drugs work by inhibiting the biological enzyme COX-2.

Enzymes are biological catalysts that mediate biological processes. COX-2 inhibits programmed cell death (apoptosis) and promotes the development of new blood vessels (angiogenesis). As apoptosis will cause cancerous cells to die, inhibition of apoptosis makes development of cancer more likely. Angiogenesis is needed to provide cancerous cells with oxygen and nutrients, allowing them to survive. Inhibition of COX-2 will make the development of cancer less likely.

The role of COX-2 in Barrett’s oesophagus, and its progression, is indicated by the increased expression of the enzyme in non-dysplastic, dysplastic Barrett’s oesophagus, and oesophageal adenocarcinoma (9,10).

NSAID use is likely to be retrospectively protective, meaning individuals who have previously used NSAIDs are less likely to develop oesophageal adenocarcinoma than those who have never taken NSAIDs. In one study, there was an 80% reduction (from 14.3% to 6.6%) in the incidence of adenocarcinoma in individuals who previously used NSAIDs compared to those who have never taken such drugs (11).


Statins are a group of drugs that reduce the production of cholesterol by the body, and help reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood.

Several studies have indicated that regular use of statins (with or without NSAIDs) is associated with a significantly reduced risk of developing oesophageal adenocarcinoma. For example, one study (12) found that patients on long-term statins were 43% less likely to develop oesophageal cancer. Those on statins and aspirin had a 69% reduced risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

In one study of 85 patients, the odds ratio of patients on longer-term statin use was 0.57. The use of higher doses of statins was associated with a significantly greater reduction in the OR for oesophageal adenocarcinoma. When combined with aspirin, the OR = 0.31 (12).
A meta-analysis of 5 patient studies found that statins were associated with a 41% reduction in the risk of oesophageal adenocarcinoma after adjusting for confounding variables.

Cautionary advice

A meta-analysis published in 2015 (13) found that:

  • Statin use was associated with a 50% risk reduction of oesophageal adenocarcinoma and high-grade dysplastic Barrett’s oesophagus in Barrett’s patients
  • PPI’s do not significantly reduce the risk of high-grade dysplastic Barrett’s oesophagus or oesophageal adenocarcinoma at any dose
  • Low-dose use of NSAIDs is not associated with a risk reduction for oesophageal adenocarcinoma

This meta-analysis suggests that pharmacological agents in patients with Barrett’s oesophagus should not necessarily be provided, due to the conflicting evidence for their efficacy.


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