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Diagnosis Gastroenterology

Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett's esophagus is diagnosed with an upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and biopsies.

To perform an upper GI endoscopy, a doctor threads a thin, flexible tube through the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach while the patient is lightly sedated. The endoscope has a flashlight and camera on one end that allows the doctor to inspect the esophageal lining for cellular changes that might indicate dysplasia. The doctor can also use the endoscope to take small tissue samples called biopsies. These samples help doctors diagnose the presence and grade of Barrett's esophagus.

New technologies also allow doctors to do optical biopsies, which don't involve removing any tissue at all.

The results may be labeled one of the following:

  • No dysplasia, meaning the patient has Barrett's esophagus but no precancerous cellular changes
  • Low-grade dysplasia, meaning cells show early signs of precancerous changes
  • High-grade dysplasia, meaning cells are moving toward esophageal cancer

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.