Do you constantly pop antacids? Is your heartburn so bad that it keeps you awake at night? Have you had acid reflux for more than 5 years?
If you do, you should speak with your doctor. You could have a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, a condition puts you at greater risk for esophageal cancer.
Your esophagus is the “tube” that transports food from your mouth and throat to your stomach and digestive system. In this post we review the signs of esophageal cancer and common risk factors.
Signs of Esophageal Cancer
Rampant heartburn isn’t the only sign that you may have cancer of the esophagus. Other signs include:
- Unintended weight loss
- A persistent cough or chronic hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain when you swallow
- A lump underneath the skin
- Heartburn and acid reflux that won’t go away with medicine
What Are the Risk Factors of Esophageal Cancer?
Smoking is a major risk factor. But that shouldn’t come as a surprise.
We really, really hope that you don’t smoke. If you do, then your first priority for your health should be to stop. Smoking places you at seriously high risk for multiple cancers and heart disease.
If you think vaping is a safer alternative, think again. Vaping has also been linked to diseases. There have been numerous cases of “vape lung,” an illness that causes severe respiratory distress and, in some cases, death.
We understand that quitting is difficult, and we want you to know that we’ll help you every step of the way.
There are also a lot of useful online resources for quitting.
Ideally, your esophagus uses its muscles to push food down into your stomach.
However, in some cases, the part of the tube near the stomach is replaced by a different type of tissue. This different tissue is more similar to the kind found in your intestines. This condition is called Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is seen in people who have had GERD. That’s short for gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Think of GERD as chronic heartburn and regurgitations. It’s typically found in those with acid reflux that has been going on for more than 5 years.
Additional Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer
Other risk factors include:
- Using tobacco: This means much more than smoking. It means chewing tobacco, snuff, or any other similar tobacco product.
- Excessive alcohol use
- Age: Those who are older have a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer.
How Many Americans Are Affected by Esophageal Cancer?
First, the good news: Esophageal cancer rates in the United States are gradually declining.
However, thousands of Americans still die of esophageal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society there are about 17,650 new cases annually. Each year, around 16,080 Americans die from esophageal cancer.
Some Interesting Facts About Esophageal Cancer
Following are some interesting pieces of information about esophageal cancer:
- It’s more common among men than women.
- It makes up around 1 percent of the cancers diagnosed in the United States.
- Your lifetime risk of getting it is around 1 in 132 for men and 1 in 455 for women.
- There are two main types of esophageal cancer: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
- Adenocarcinoma is most commonly seen among whites.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is more commonly seen among African-Americans.
- Those who are Native American, Asian or Hispanic have lower rates of esophageal cancer.
Is There a Screening Test for Esophageal Cancer?
According to the National Cancer Institute there are no standard screening tests for esophageal cancer.
However, if you are in a high-risk group or if you have Barrett’s esophagus, your doctor may recommend having a regular endoscopy to look for problems.
During an endoscopy, a thin, lighted tube equipped with a tiny camera is gently placed down the throat. The doctor is able to see the inside of your esophagus.
Sometimes, the doctor may take a small piece of tissue to be closely examined. This process is called a biopsy.
If Barrett’s esophagus is found, your doctor will give you medicine to reduce acid reflux. Treatment does not usually cure Barrett’s esophagus, but it keeps it from getting worse.
If Barrett’s esophagus becomes more precancerous on subsequent endoscopies there is an endoscopic technique called ablation that allows removing Barrett’s esophagus and significantly reducing its risk of turning into esophageal cancer.
The Latest Treatments for Esophageal Cancer
Research has paved the way for many insights into treatment for esophageal cancer. The American Cancer Society outlines some discoveries that help the fight against cancer.
Genetic Screenings for Risks
Some genes are more common in people with Barrett’s esophagus. This means we can find those who may be more likely to get it, so we can implement preventative measures.
Genetic research also means better therapies that are targeted specifically to these problem genes.
Refined Screening Tests
Tests are being developed to help determine which people with Barrett’s are more likely to develop cancer. This enables doctors to know how often to schedule screening appointments and help find those patients who need close monitoring.
Advanced testing helps doctors determine who is more likely to be helped by surgery. Doctors are also constantly refining their surgical techniques to produce the best outcomes.
Cancer cells contain protein. Researchers are hoping to learn a lot from these proteins—mainly whether or not the cancer cell will respond to chemotherapy. This helps doctors determine the best treatment.
Cancer cells are sneaky. They can often maneuver around your immune system’s “guards” to keep from being attacked. However, a new set of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors are now being used in fighting throat cancer.
These drugs help your body uncover cancer cells’ “disguises” and direct the immune system to attack them.
Do You Have Acid Reflux That Won’t Go Away with Medicine?
If you have acid reflux that won’t go away with medicine, you may have GERD. However, you should also be aware that severe acid reflux is also a potential sign of esophageal cancer.
Regardless, acid reflux that won’t go away with medicine is something that should be examined by one of our leading experts.
We welcome the opportunity to serve you. Simply contact us for more information.
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Inside Conway Medical Center, you’ll find our new DukeHealth affiliated Cancer Center. We’ve taken the time to create a treatment center that provides an environment that is both state-of-the-art and relaxing. We offer:
- A variety of injections
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We invite you to learn more by exploring the features of our new, comprehensive Cancer Center.
American Cancer Society. “Esophageal Cancer.” Online.
National Cancer Institute. “Esophageal Cancer.” Online.