Chronic Heartburn and Esophageal Cancer

Chronic Heartburn and Esophageal Cancer

by Shearly (SU)

Do you have frequent heartburn? Chronic heartburn (occurring two or more times a week) can indicate an underlying condition that may be damaging your esophagus. In fact, chronic heartburn has been linked to esophageal cancer. This does not mean that you automatically have or will get esophageal cancer, only that it is one of several risk factors for the disease.


Chronic Heartburn and Esophageal Cancer


Your esophagus is a long, muscular tube that carries food and liquids from your mouth to your stomach. The esophagus runs in the space between the spine and the heart, just behind the windpipe, or trachea. Lined with mucosa, it contracts, helping to carry foodstuffs to the stomach where they can be fully digested. In some cases, the strong acids in your stomach can reflux back up, causing damage to the esophageal tissues. Your stomach has a protective barrier that prevents the acids from eating through, but your esophagus does not.


Over time, ulcerations caused by acid can develop. Besides causing irritation and scarring, long term damage can increase your overall risk for developing cancer of the esophagus. There are two main kinds of esophageal cancer: squamous cell and adenocarcinomas. Chronic heartburn is related to the latter. Another related condition, known as Barrett’s esophagus, can develop in patients with long-term GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).


Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which healthy, normal esophageal tissue is slowly replaced with tissue that is more closely related to that of the intestines. This condition is associated with a much higher risk of esophageal cancer, and patients with both ongoing GERD and Barrett’s esophagus should be regularly tested to help catch precancerous cells as early as possible. Early treatment for esophageal cancer is critical for positive outcomes.


Symptoms of esophageal cancer include:


·      Chronic hoarseness

·      Ongoing cough

·      An increase in heartburn and indigestion

·      Bleeding from the esophagus


In the early stages, esophageal cancer has few symptoms. Risk factors from esophageal cancer include: age (people over the age of 55 are at a higher risk), gender (men are three times more likely that women to develop esophageal cancer), prior tobacco use, being overweight, diet (a diet high in processed meats and low in fruits and vegetables), and chronic reflux.  


If your doctor suspects you may have, or are at risk for esophageal cancer, he or she may request that you undergo a test known as an endoscopy. An endoscopy employs a long, flexible camera that can be used to view, and biopsy the inside of your throat. You may also be given a barium swallow test; in which you drink a special chalky liquid that can be tracked on an X-ray. Other tests such as a CT scan may also be required to rule out cancer of the esophagus. If you, or a loved one is suffering from chronic heartburn, or if you would like to know more about esophageal cancer, or any other gastroenterological condition, please call Anne Arundel Gastroenterology Associates at (410)-224-2116 today. You can also request an appointment online here.