Background Oesophageal adenocarcinoma is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide. Previously, oesophageal cancer was mainly squamous cell, presenting late with dysphagia and weight loss.
Aims To examine the distribution of oesophageal cancer histopathology at a large, urban hospital; to determine the tumour stage and symptoms at presentation; and to evaluate the impact of endoscopic surveillance in Barrett's oesophagus.
Methods From 1999 to 2004, all patients diagnosed with oesophageal cancer were evaluated retrospectively for demographics and tumour stage at presentation using endoscopic ultrasonography and computerized tomography.
Results A total of 131 patients were included. 81% of tumours were adenocarcinomas; most localized to the distal oesophagus (97%). Patients presented with dysphagia (56%), pain (30%) and/or weight loss (16%). Irrespective of histology, locally advanced lesions accounted for most cases. Thirteen patients had lesions detected in Barrett's surveillance; these were early or intermediate stage in nine patients, but late stage in four patients.
Conclusions Adenocarcinoma has become the dominant histologic subtype, comprising 81% of proven malignancies. Despite a change in histopathology, most cancers are diagnosed at an advanced stage, presenting with dysphagia, pain and/or weight loss. Endoscopic surveillance of Barrett's oesophagus allows earlier diagnosis of cancer in most, but not all, patients.