What You Should Know About Esophageal Cancer
April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month. Esophageal Cancer is not as well-known as some of the cancers, but it can be deadly. One type of esophageal cancer, adenocarcinoma, is on the rise in the US due to the increase incidence of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a condition that occurs when stomach contents frequently come back up into the esophagus. These contents are mixed with acid and other fluids the stomach makes to help your body digest food.
A Common but Serious Offender:
Most everyone has reflux symptoms at some time. That's pretty obvious when you see the ads on TV or walk down the digestive section of the drug store. There are so many acid reducing medications available without a prescription that it's easy to think of the symptoms of GERD as nothing more than an annoyance in our daily lives. That's not always the case. The frequent exposure of acid from your stomach can cause damage to your esophagus and cause pre-cancerous changes in the esophageal lining called Barrett’s Esophagus. Medication alone can't always prevent this from happening and this condition can develop into cancer.
You may not think you have GERD if you don't experience the classic symptom of heartburn. Did you know that coughing, hoarseness, and/or clearing your throat can also be signs of GERD? It's even thought that some sleep disorders are caused by GERD. Not everyone with GERD will get esophageal cancer, but it is a major risk factor. Other risk factors include tobacco use, alcohol, obesity, drinking hot liquids, and chemical burns to your esophagus.
You can reduce your risk.
There are many lifestyle changes you can make to manage GERD and reduce your risk of getting esophageal cancer. These changes can also help reduce other cancer risks as well.
- Decrease your weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in red and processed meats.
- Manage reflux, heartburn, and GERD symptoms. Find out how here.
- Pay attention to changes in your body and report abnormal symptoms to your doctor. These symptoms include frequent or long-term heartburn, unexplained weight loss, blood in your stool or vomit, difficult or painful swallowing, throat pain, choking when you lie down, chronic cough and/or hoarseness, breathing problems and fatigue.
- Don't lie down for 2-3 hours after meals.
- Don't smoke or use any tobacco products.
- Don't drink alcohol in excess.
- Don’t drink very hot drinks; let them cool off some first.
- Don't use over the counter acid reducing medications without talking to your doctor. These medications have side effects and potential drug interactions. Your doctor needs to know if you are having symptoms because further investigation may be necessary.