Esophageal cancer is one of the fastest-growing and deadliest cancers in the U.S.
According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in 2015. Incidence of adenocarcinoma, a type of esophageal cancer linked to GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) has risen six-fold in recent decades.
GERD is more than heartburn
According to F. Paul "Tripp" Buckley III, M.D., general surgeon and director of the Scott & White Hospital - Round Rock Heartburn & Acid Reflux Center, "GERD is a chronic, often progressive disease resulting from a weak lower esophageal sphincter that allows harmful gastric fluid to reflux into the esophagus, resulting in both pain and injury to the esophageal lining."
GERD symptoms include heartburn and regurgitation, often associated with chronic sleep disruption, and may include persistent cough, excessive throat clearing, hoarseness and a feeling of a "lump" in the throat. Acid reflux medications affect gastric acid production, but do not repair the sphincter defect, allowing continued reflux.
GERD can lead to cancer
Patients with chronic GERD can develop a condition called Barrett's esophagus. An estimated 15 percent of chronic reflux patients also have Barrett's esophagus - a condition caused when digestive acid backs up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing damage and the growth of pre-cancerous cells.
According to the National Institutes of Health, more than three million people in the U.S. have Barrett's esophagus. Left untreated, patients have a 40 times greater risk in developing adenocarcinoma, an aggressive form of cancer that is often fatal.
The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is difficulty swallowing, with a feeling of food stuck in your throat or chest, or even choking on food. This often is mild when it starts, then worsens as the opening inside the esophagus gets narrower. Additional symptoms include unintentional weight loss, chest pain, pressure or burning, worsening indigestion or heartburn, coughing or hoarseness, and bleeding in the esophagus.