Understanding Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal Can­cer is a dis­ease that results from can­cer cells form­ing in the esoph­a­gus — the mus­cu­lar tube that car­ries food from the mouth to the stomach.

There are two types of Esophageal Cancer:

  • Ade­no­car­ci­no­ma - caused by long stand­ing gas­troe­sophageal reflux dis­ease (GERD). Ade­no­car­ci­no­ma is increas­ing at a faster rate than any oth­er can­cer in the U.S.
  • Squa­mous Cell Car­ci­no­ma ‑often linked to tobac­co usage and alco­hol consumption

How does Esophageal Can­cer begin?

Esophageal can­cer is more like­ly to occur in patients who have suf­fered from per­sis­tent heart­burn or GERD. GERD results when stom­ach con­tent includ­ing food and liq­uids (acid & bile) leak upwards into and irri­tate the lin­ing of the esoph­a­gus, this may also be referred to as reflux dis­ease.

Over time, in approx­i­mate­ly 10 per­cent of heart­burn suf­fer­ers, the lin­ing of the esoph­a­gus will change and try to adapt to long term expo­sure to acid and become tougher and less sen­si­tive which masks chron­ic heart­burn symp­toms. This reduc­tion in heart­burn sen­sa­tion can indi­cate ear­ly signs of pre­can­cer­ous changes in the esoph­a­gus. When pre-can­cer­ous cells form in the esoph­a­gus, the con­di­tion is referred to as Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus. Patients who have Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus have a 1 in 20 chance of devel­op­ing Esophageal Can­cer.

Risk fac­tors for devel­op­ment of Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus include:

  • Over 50 years of age
  • Male gen­der
  • Cau­casian
  • High BMI (Obese)
  • His­to­ry of Smoking
  • Fam­i­ly His­to­ry of Esophageal Cancer

*Bar­ret­t’s Esoph­a­gus can affect oth­er races and genders.

Facts about Heart­burn and Esophageal Cancer

  • The fastest increas­ing type of esophageal can­cer is caused by gas­troe­sophageal reflux dis­ease (GERD).
  • About 15 mil­lion Amer­i­cans expe­ri­ence heart­burn every day.
  • Approx­i­mate­ly 3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans cur­rent­ly have Bar­ret­t’s esophagus
  • Heart­burn suf­fer­ers are twice as like­ly to devel­op pre­can­cer­ous Bar­ret­t’s esophagus.

Ear­ly detec­tion of Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus is your best defense against Esophageal Can­cer. Min­i­mal­ly inva­sive out­pa­tient pro­ce­dures can elim­i­nate this con­di­tion and pre­vent can­cer from pro­gress­ing. Do not ignore your chron­ic heartburn.

Con­sult your doc­tor if you have any of the fol­low­ing chron­ic reflux symp­toms to dis­cuss a Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus screening:

  • Per­sis­tent heart­burn or acid reflux (two or more times per week over sev­er­al weeks)
  • Expe­ri­enced heart­burn in the past but symp­tom have gone away
  • Pain or dif­fi­cul­ty swallowing
  • Regur­gi­ta­tion of food, espe­cial­ly at night
  • Sleep Apnea
  • Chron­ic Cough
  • Hoarse­ness of voice
  • Chron­ic Sore throat
  • Fam­i­ly his­to­ry of Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus or Esophageal cancer

Learn more about Bar­ret­t’s esoph­a­gus, Esophageal Can­cer and our expert Gas­troen­terol­o­gy team. 

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