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Acid Reflux Disease and Esophageal Cancer

written by: Julia Bodeeb • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 8/13/2010

Acid reflux may be a precursor to esophageal cancer. Learn about how to limit incidents of acid reflux and build a healthier lifestyle to work to prevent esophageal cancer.

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    The National Cancer Institute defines esophageal cancer as: “cancer that forms in tissues lining the esophagus (the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach.” The NCI notes that “esophageal cancer is rare; 16,470 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2008.”

    The esophagus connects the mouth to the stomach; its length reaches from the neck to the abdomen. Acid reflux from the stomach damages the cells in the lining of the esophagus. Ongoing acid reflux is linked to Barrett’s esophagus, which may be a precursor to esophageal cancer.

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    About Esophogeal Cancer

    There are various types of esophageal cancer including: sarcoma, small cell, squamous cell, and adenocarcinomas. The Heartburn Alliance reports that “esophageal cancer occurs more frequently in men than woman at a 4:1 margin.” African American men have an elevated risk of this disease.

    Risk factors

    Lifestyle choices have a big impact on risk factors for esophageal cancer. Habits such as smoking, high consumption of alcohol, and overeating/ obesity may increase the risk for this cancer. A diet scarce in fruits and vegetables may also increase the risk for esophageal cancer. Men of over age 60 have an increased risk for this cancer.

    The HPV (human papilloma virus) is also a risk factor for esophageal cancer. Certain pre-existing disorders such as tylosis and achalasia may also increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

    Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

    The Society of Thoracic Surgeons states that typical symptoms of esophageal cancer include: “problems swallowing food, unexplained weight loss, throat pain, burning feeling in chest, chronic cough, acid indigestion or reflux, vomiting, and blood in stools or in vomit.” Spewing up blood may also be a symptom of advanced esophageal cancer. Symptoms of this cancer too often appear only when the cancer is already very advanced according to Memorial Sloan Cancer Center.

    Evaluation Tests & Treatment

    Tests to diagnose esophageal cancer include an endoscopy, CT scan, and a barium x-ray of the esophagus and or stomach. If acid reflux is an ongoing problem, talk to the doctor about ongoing screening for esophageal cancer. Treatment options include: surgery, radiation therapy, and photodynamic therapy.

    Maintain a healthy weight to help prevent all cancers. Also eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, particularly broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage to work to prevent esophageal cancer. Do not smoke or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

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    Prevent Acid Reflux

    To work to prevent the occurrence of acid reflux, eat smaller meals, take a walk after meals, use antacids, do not recline after meals, eat a final meal at least several hours before going to sleep, practice stress reduction techniques such as having quiet time alone, meditation, and yoga. Avoid acidic foods that irritate the digestive system like citrus and tomatoes.

    If acid reflux is a problem, speak to your doctor about how to manage and prevent this problem. Ask for regular diagnostic tests to ensure the acid reflux has not created a developing cancer in the esophagus.