About Esophageal Cancer

Heartburn can be fatal

Acid reflux, or heartburn, is a common condition that affects millions of Canadians. It occurs when digestive acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus.

Almost everyone at one time has experienced some acid reflux after they’ve eaten a spicy meal, or they lay down after eating. Popping some nonprescription antacids in these cases usually brings some relief.

When heartburn occurs on a daily or weekly basis during a period of time; however, then it becomes cause for concern.

Chronic acid reflux can develop into a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s Esophagus. Constant exposure to stomach acids changes the cells of the esophagus so they begin to resemble the cells that line the stomach. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, it is believed that those living with Barrett’s Esophagus may be at an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer and should have an endoscopy test.

Chronic heartburn could lead to esophageal cancer if not treated. As cancer develops, the following symptoms may appear:
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Severe weight loss
  • Pain in the throat or back, behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
  • Hoarseness or chronic coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing up blood
Who is at risk for esophageal cancer?

According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, it is believed that about half of all esophageal cancers arise from adenocarcinoma, which seems to be closely related to heartburn, and possibly other things like hazardous chemicals and inhalants.

Contributing risk factors include:
  • Age — people who are 30+ years of age and who have had acid reflux for more than 10 years
  • Smoking
  • Sex — males are more likely to develop esophageal cancer
  • Obesity
  • Chronic alcohol use, especially when combined with smoking
  • Existing diagnosis of Barrett’s Esophagus
  • Existing diagnosis of other head and neck cancers
Early detection is critical

If you suffer from chronic heartburn or occasional heartburn and feel you are at risk, talk to your doctor today about scheduling an endoscopy test. It could save your life.

For more information, visit the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation at www.cdhf.ca.