The American Cancer Society estimates that about 17,650 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer this year.
The exact cause of this type of cancer is unknown, but it is believed esophageal cancer develops from damage to the cells of the esophagus, the tube leading from the throat to the stomach. Certain lifestyle factors, such as tobacco and alcohol use, can damage these cells.
Some risk factors include older age, being male, smoking cigarettes, heavy alcohol use, obesity and suffering from persistent, untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or acid reflux).
A commonly asked question is whether GERD or acid reflux can cause esophageal cancer?
“More than 40 percent of Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month. While occasional heartburn isn’t something to worry about, frequent symptoms could signal a more serious problem known as GERD,” said Gastroenterologist David Zink, MD. “Heartburn is a common symptom of GERD, but this condition can also cause difficult swallowing, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, a feeling like there’s a lump in your throat, coughing, wheezing or frequent throat clearing, hoarse voice, and nausea,” he added.
About 10-15 percent of people with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus, where the tissue of the lining of the esophagus changes due to repeated exposure to stomach acid. Barrett’s esophagus puts you at a slightly higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. The risk of esophageal cancer in individuals with Barrett’s esophagus is low (about 0.5 percent per year or 1 out of 200 patients).
Procedures used to diagnose esophageal cancer include endoscopy (using a flexible tube equipped with a video lens to view your esophagus) and collecting a sample of tissue for testing (biopsy).
When diagnosed early, endoscopic resection (using an endoscope to remove cancerous or other abnormal tissue) and radiofrequency ablation (RFA) are two highly effective, minimally invasive treatment techniques. Surgery is another option, usually performed in combination with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Immunotherapy is also beginning to show promise for certain patients.
“The best way to lower your risk for any type of cancer, including esophageal cancer, is to embrace a healthy and active lifestyle. That means, eating a diet low in sugar and saturated fat and high in whole foods like fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation and exercising regularly,” Dr. Zink said.
Holland Hospital, along with its Lakeshore Health Partners – General Surgery and Spectrum Health Medical Group Gastroenterology providers, offers local access to comprehensive gastrointestinal care, including the latest diagnostic and treatment techniques available at our state-of-the-art Reflux Center and Endoscopy Center.