While the overall death rates from several cancers such as breast and lung have gone down, there has been a meteoric rise in cases of esophageal cancer. Studies have shown that from 1975 to 2001, the incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma rose approximately sixfold in the United States (from four to 23 cases per million), a relative increase greater than that for melanoma, breast, or prostate cancer.
Silent and deadly, this cancer has gained a solid foothold partly because public awareness about how the disease develops and can be prevented isn't well known. Once diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the survival rate is low so early intervention is critical, says UCLA experts.
"Obesity and poor diet have spiked the numbers suffering from acid reflux that can lead to Barrett's esophagus, a condition that increases the risk for developing a specific type of esophageal cancer," said Dr. V. Raman Muthusamy, associate clinical professor of medicine, director of interventional endoscopy, and endoscopy director of the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders.
Over time, stomach acid that is abnormally washing into the esophagus due to acid reflux disease, heartburn and GERD may cause changes in the tissue lining of the esophagus called Barrett's esophagus. Those with Barrett's may be up to 30-40 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer. People may not feel any symptoms other than heartburn as the disease progresses.
"Early identification, treatment and management of changes in the esophageal lining are critical to catching problems early," said Dr. Kevin Ghassemi, clinical programs director, UCLA Center for Esophageal Diseases.
Everyone experiences heartburn once in awhile, so when should you be concerned?
UCLA experts offer the following tips to help reduce the risks associated with acid reflux disease:
1)Occasional heart burn is okay. But, if you suffer from it one or more times a week, you may want to see your doctor or gastroenterologist about managing it.
2)Maintain a healthy weight. Experts have found that being overweight can exacerbate acid reflux and heartburn.
3)Don't overeat. Symptoms can be aggravated if you are overly full. Also, don't lie down immediately after eating since that can also cause stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. Consider light exercise after eating such as taking a walk which can help aid digestion.