Heartburn Linked to Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer possibly linked to heartburn


April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, and public concern for the disease should be at an all time high. One possible culprit responsible for the increase according to recent medical studies indicates that heartburn is linked to esophageal cancer. In 2006 over 16,000 people were diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the United States according to The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. Even though esophageal cancer rates are not in the top ten of all cancers, its numbers are steadily rising.

With heartburn linked to esophageal cancer, those that suffer from chronic stomach acid issues should consult with a doctor as soon as possible. One area of concern about the link is that many people who do suffer from heartburn, are not aware of it. Heartburn is any condition that adversely affects acid reflux in the stomach. Chronic heartburn can also mask itself as gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD and Barrett’s esophagus.

Out of the common heartburn conditions, Barrett’s esophagus is tied to the highest association with esophageal cancer. It is a precancerous condition in which the cells of the lower esophagus become damaged from repeated exposure to stomach acid. It is estimated that over 2 million people in the US have the condition.

Recent research out of the University of California at San Francisco, suggest that a common link of excess stomach acid or heartburn to esophageal cancer is plausible. The National Cancer Society also supports recent research that suggests so as well.

Early detection is the key to combating esophageal cancer, especially when linked to Barrett’s esophagus or chronic heartburn. The research team at the Seattle Barrett’s Esophagus program has produced findings that show that with early detection, 5-year survival rates for those diagnosed with esophageal cancer can increase all the way up to 80 percent from the current 15 percent survival rate.

Esophageal cancer is seeing the sharpest rise in women and African Americans, even though it is most prevalent among middle aged white men in the US.

Being mindful about prevention is the first line of defense when being conscious of reducing the risks of developing esophageal cancer and decreasing chronic acid reflux or heartburn.

Prevention tips include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight or losing excess weight
  • Watching proportion size of all meals to avoid heartburn
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol

For those that suffer from chronic heartburn or Barrett’s esophagus, the team at the University of California at San Francisco also suggests that taking an aspirin, ibuprofen, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) daily can reduce the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

The study followed 250 Barrett’s patients over a 10-year period of time and during that time, those that took a NSAID daily reduced their risk of developing cancer by 30 percent. The other half of the test group, who did not take a NSAID daily, were faced with a 79 percent risk of developing cancer.

Additionally, those that suffer from chronic heartburn or Barrett’s should also steer away from spicy foods, especially found in meats. The acidity in spices and the fat from meat further agitates the esophagus and as well as the stomach and small intestine in some cases. Coffee and some fruits with a high citrus content can also have the same effect and should be avoided when necessary.

While April may be Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, knowing that heartburn is linked to esophageal cancer, should be top of mind for many of those who suffer from the condition all year long.

By CJ Johnson

Seattle Barrett’s Esophagus
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons
National Cancer Society
Esophageal Cancer Action Network 

One Response to "Heartburn Linked to Esophageal Cancer"

  1. Chris Robinson   April 18, 2014 at 9:56 am

    What a clumsily written article.

    What on Earth does this mean? “Heartburn is any condition that adversely affects acid reflux in the stomach.” Acid reflux FROM the stomach is the CAUSE of heartburn.

    And this? “Chronic heartburn can also mask itself as gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD and Barrett’s esophagus.” GERD is chronic heartburn. GERD (of acid AND bile) may cause Barrett’s Esophagus.

    Barrett’s esophagus is the only known pre-cancerous lesion of Esophageal adenocarcinoma.

    Whereas the recent studies (eg AspECT) have shown NSAIDs in carefully controlled amounts used in conjunction with a PPI (acid suppressant), it is highly irresponsible to suggest those with BE may wish to take a daily dose of aspirin etc. NSAIDs provoke production of excess acid so may be harmful if not used in combination with an acid suppressant under medical supervision!

    And the banned foods list is also out of date. However acid or alkali food is makes no difference when it is mixed with the reservoir of very strong acid in the stomach. What we have to watch for are the trigger foods that may cause the production of extra acid. These vary from person to person. Whereas chocolate and citrus fruits are common triggers, they are not universal.
    Animal fats and processed meats, however, are a cause of excess acid and bile in the stomach. As oil and water don’t mix, so acid has no effect on animal fat which will remain in the stomach longer with excess acid being sprayed on it that won’t be neutralized. Eventually some bile will be permitted to reflux into the stomach via the pyloric sphincter to manage the problem. – And it’s bile plus acid that will cause the pre-cancerous lesion BE to develop.

    I am guessing this article was produced following a press release from ECAN (Esophageal Cancer Action Network) and rewritten by a copy writer who didn’t fully understand it.

    Occasional heartburn is common (the burning feeling of acid splashing on the esophagus) though for some reason 40% of people do not actually feel it..
    Peristent heartburn = GERD
    Peristent GERD of bile at low pH will cause Barrett’s Esophagus which in 0.3% can lead to esophageal adenocarcinoma.

    I have made reference to many research papers within my response here. I can provide the links to the papers if anyone wants them.


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