Esophageal Cancer and GERD

Esophageal cancer is one of the most rapidly growing types of cancer in the world, in terms of cases, and is also one of the most deadly, with small survival rates. Gastrointestinal reflux disease can be a contributing factor to this illness, so if you have GERD, getting your symptoms under control or fixing the problem is extremely advisable.

According to Loyola University researchers, the incidence rate of esophageal cancer is growing faster than that of any other form of cancer in the United States. In 2008, more than 16,400 cases were diagnosed. Of those the vast majority, about 13,000 were in men, and about 3,500 were in women. The disease killed about 14,000 people, once again with men being the vast majority, with 11,200 fatal cases compared to 3,000 among women. Worldwide, esophageal cancer is the seventh leading cause of death by cancer.

Bottom line: Esophageal cancer, in many cases, is a guaranteed death sentence, and you need to do everything you can to avoid it.

Esophageal cancer tends to occur in older people more often than younger people, with folks over the age of 65 being 20 times more likely to have it than those under 65. African-Americans also tend to have a higher incidence of esophageal cancer than other demographic groups.

GERD has been determined to be the primary predisposing factor for esophageal cancer, meaning that if you have GERD you are at an elevated risk for developing esophageal cancer. GERD causes stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus. Over time the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus may result in Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus is generally when the lining of the esophagus becomes like the lining of the intestine. Folks with Barrett's esophagus may develop precancerous cells called dysplasia.

There are quite a few early warning signs of esophageal cancer. Knowing and understanding them may give you a better chance of survival, as early detection can help doctors treat the cancer before it reaches an advanced stage.

Dysphagia, or difficulty in swallowing, is a common presenting symptom of esophageal cancer. If you're having dysphagia and you have GERD, you should immediately have a barium swallow study done. Another presenting symptom of esophageal cancer is weight loss. Nearly half of all people with esophageal cancer present with weight loss, so in terms of warning signs, weight loss is a clanging bell. Yet another presenting symptom of esophageal cancer is pain in the retrosternal or epigastric area. Hoarseness can also be a sign of esophageal cancer.

Treatments of esophageal cancer include radiation and chemotherapy and surgery to remove the esophagus. The five year survival rate for folks with esophageal cancer that is treated surgically is 20 to 25 percent. Because of the high mortality rate involved with esophageal cancer, it makes sense to eliminate any and all potentially causitive factors for the illness.

The truth is that a realtively small number of people who develop GERD will develop esophageal cancer, but because of the deadliness of esophageal cancer, taking aggressive steps to deal with GERD is an extremely prudent course of action.

Steps to treat GERD include medications to reduce the production of stomach acid, thus giving you less to reflux and limiting the damage posed to the esophagus. Also, there are surgical options to fix the underlying cause of GERD, a weakness or malfomity of the lower esophageal sphincter. These options include surgery to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter by wrapping it part of the stomach around the esophagus and other operations involving the use of radio waves to strengthen the muscles of the esophagus. Dietary and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding acid foods and stopping smoking, can also treat the symptoms of GERD that may result in esophageal cancer.

If you have GERD, you should get frequent tests from your health care provider to make sure you haven't developed esophageal cancer. While the prognosis for esophageal cancer is poor, this is largely because most cases of esophageal cancer are caught late, after the point where medical procedures could offer hope. By catching esophageal cancer early, you have a better chance of surviving.

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