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Acid Reflux Linked to Esophageal Cancer?

Connection Seen Between Rise in a Deadly Cancer and Gastrointestinal Disorders

WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Nov. 10, 2005 -- A dramatic rise in one of the deadliest types of cancers may be linked to the increasing rates of acid reflux and gastrointestinal disorders, according to a new report.

But researchers say a better understanding of how this type of esophageal cancer develops is needed before effective prevention and treatment strategies can be developed.

The report shows cancers of the esophagus and stomach are among the deadliest of all cancers with more than 80% of those affected dying within five years.

Although cancers of the stomach (gastric cancer) have been steadily declining over the last 50 years, studies show the incidence of a cancer affecting the esophagus (esophageal adenocarcinoma) has risen by about 600% over the past few decades.

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

In the report, published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, researchers reviewed studies on cancers located where the stomach ends and esophagus begins, referred to as the gastroesophageal junction (GEJ).

The major risk factors for this type of cancer are gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and its associated conditions, such as Barrett's esophagus. In Barrett's esophagus, precancerous changes are present. Other associated risk factors include alcohol and tobacco use, obesity, and eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables.

Studies have shown that the part of the esophagus closest to the stomach is more exposed to concentrated gastric acid and a variety of agents that may contribute to the increased risk of cancer in this region.

Despite advances in screening methods for this type of cancer, researchers say more research is needed to find new ways to prevent the disease and detect it early.

The researchers say that a limited ability to detect cancerous tumors early in this region has made it difficult for researchers to understand how to develop and create effective esophageal cancer prevention strategies.

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