From the Journals

Minimally invasive screening for Barrett’s esophagus offers cost-effective alternative


Key clinical point: Using a minimally invasive screen for Barrett’s esophagus and following up with endoscopy if results are positive is a cost-effective alternative to endoscopy alone in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Major finding: The two-step screening strategy cut screening costs by 37%-41% but was associated with 1.8-5.5 fewer quality-adjusted life years for every 1,000 patients with GERD.

Data source: Two validated models based on Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results data, and data from the multicenter BEST2 trial.

Disclosures: The National Institutes of Health provided funding. The investigators had no relevant disclosures.



The high costs of endoscopy make screening patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) for Barrett’s esophagus a costly endeavor. But using a minimally invasive test followed by endoscopy only if results are positive could cut costs by up to 41%, according to investigators.

The report is in the September issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology (doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2017.02.017).

The findings mirror those from a prior study (Gastroenterology. 2013 Jan;144[1]:62-73.e60) of the new cytosponge device, which tests surface esophageal tissue for trefoil factor 3, a biomarker for Barrett’s esophagus, said Curtis R. Heberle, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and his associates. In addition, two separate models found the cytosponge strategy cost effective compared with no screening (incremental cost-effectiveness ratios [ICERs], about $26,000-$33,000). However, using the cytosponge instead of screening all GERD patients with endoscopy would reduce quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) by about 1.8-5.5 years for every 1,000 patients.

Rates of esophageal adenocarcinoma have climbed more than sixfold in the United States in 4 decades, and 5-year survival rates remain below 20%. Nonetheless, the high cost of endoscopy and 10%-20% prevalence of GERD makes screening all patients for Barrett’s esophagus infeasible. To evaluate the cytosponge strategy, the researchers fit data from the multicenter BEST2 study (PLoS Med. 2015 Jan; 12[1]: e1001780) into two validated models calibrated to high-quality Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) data on esophageal cancer. Both models compared no screening with a one-time screen by either endoscopy alone or cytosponge with follow-up endoscopy in the event of a positive test. The models assumed patients were male, were 60 years old, and had GERD but not esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Without screening, there were about 14-16 cancer cases and about 15,077 quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) for every 1,000 patients. The cytosponge strategy was associated with about 8-13 cancer cases and about 15,105 QALYs. Endoscopic screening produced the most benefit overall – only about 7-12 cancer cases, with more than 15,100 QALYs. “However, greater benefits were accompanied by higher total costs,” the researchers said. For every 1,000 patients, no screening cost about $704,000 to $762,000, the cytosponge strategy cost about $1.5 to $1.6 million, and population-wide endoscopy cost about $2.1 to $2.2 million. Thus, the cytosponge method would lower the cost of screening by 37%-41% compared with endoscopically screening all men with GERD. The cytosponge was also cost effective in a model of 60-year-old women with GERD.

Using only endoscopic screening was not cost effective in either model, exceeding a $100,000 threshold of willingness to pay by anywhere from $107,000 to $330,000. The cytosponge is not yet available commercially, but the investigators assumed it cost $182 based on information from the manufacturer (Medtronic) and Medicare payments for similar devices. Although the findings withstood variations in indirect costs and age at initial screening, they were “somewhat sensitive” to variations in costs of the cytosponge and its presumed sensitivity and specificity in clinical settings. However, endoscopic screening only became cost effective when the cytosponge test cost at least $225.

The models assumed perfect adherence to screening, which probably exaggerated the effectiveness of the cytosponge and endoscopic screening, the investigators said. They noted that cytosponge screening can be performed without sedation during a short outpatient visit.

The National Institutes of Health provided funding. The investigators had no relevant disclosures.

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