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Hope & Healing: The UF Health Blog

Acid Reflux Ties to Esophageal Cancer

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, may have links to esophageal cancer. GERD is a condition in which stomach acid leaks into your esophagus, or food pipe. The fibrous muscle in your lower esophagus struggles to keep swallowed food down, causing heartburn and irritation of the esophagus.

GERD can occur at any age and more than half of babies will experience reflux in their first few months. At least once a week, about 40 percent of the American population experiences GERD symptoms. What many people do not realize about GERD is the threat of developing esophageal cancer.

Two illnesses that GERD conditions can lead to include Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Men are three times more likely to develop these conditions, according to the National Institutes of Health. Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid over time.

If GERD symptoms persist, they could hint at traces of adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer that forms in glandular cells of the esophagus. Patients with severe symptoms should ask for a gastrointestinal tract evaluation from a gastroenterologist. If your symptoms are mild, you may not need require close examination.

Cancer symptoms to search for:

  • Chronic cough
  • Dysphagia: trouble swallowing and a sensation that food is stuck in your throat
  • Chest Pain
  • Weight loss without trying

Cancer prevention

  • Treating known symptoms of GERD with medications
  • Surveillance endoscopy (EGD)
  • Elimination of Barrett’s esophagus by endoscopic procedures

Being proactive about GERD is key to preventing esophageal cancer. Here is what you need to know to better maintain the symptoms.

Preventing GERD flare-ups with healthy food and habits:

  • Eat smaller portions; give your digestive system a break.
  • Eat naturally low-fat foods such as vegetables, lean meats and egg whites. Oatmeal can absorb acid in the stomach.
  • Avoid smoking, it worsens symptoms.
  • Limit alcohol consumption and do not drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Acidity will irritate your stomach.
  • Avoid citrus fruits, spicy foods and tomatoes.
  • Ginger is an anti-inflammatory and helps treat heartburn symptoms.
  • Choose acetaminophen over aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen.

Some prescription medications can agitate GERD. If you are taking medications for blood pressure, depression or anxiety, motion sickness, or asthma, consult your physician as these could worsen GERD symptoms. Discuss GERD symptoms with your physician if you have concerns about your medications.

GERD treatment options

  • Anti-reflux surgery
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – medication that reduces the production of acid by blocking the enzyme in the wall of the stomach that produces acid
  • H2 blockers – medication that lowers the amount of acid released in the stomach
  • Endoscopic therapies – a flexible tube passed through the mouth into the stomach

One of the most effective treatment methods available to GERD patients is the anti-reflux surgery. A magnetic implant, called the LINX®, is inserted around the outside of the lower esophageal sphincter. The implant helps prevent reflux by helping muscles close tightly. The minimally invasive procedure takes two to three hours. For more information about this option, visit https://ufhealth.org/anti-reflux-surgery.

About the Author

Billie Arnett's picture

Billie Arnett

Marketing Intern

Billie Arnett is a UF Health Communications Intern. She is senior majoring in public relations and minoring in health disparities. She is passionate about health communications and nonprofit work. When...Read More

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