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Obesity Behind Esophageal Cancer Rise?

Rates Triple for 1 Form of Cancer of the Esophagus

Adenocarcinomas Take Over

As recently as 1975, three in four esophageal cancers were squamous cell cancers. But starting in 1996, adenocarcinomas took over, Fitzgerald says. Now, esophageal adenocarcinoma rates are rising faster than those of any other cancer, he says.

For the new study, Fitzgerald and colleagues tracked more than 7,300 cases of esophageal cancer that were reported to the Michigan tumor registry from 1986 to 2002. Results showed that overall, the frequency of esophageal cancer in the U.S. rose from four to five cases per 100,000 people per year.

Rates of esophageal adenocarcinoma rose from one to three cases per 100,000 people per year. White men were particularly affected, with rates increasing from 2.5 to 5.9 cases per 100,000 people per year.

In contrast, the number of cases dropped slightly among African-American women.

The researchers then looked at BMI trends in the state of Michigan from 1988 to 2006. They found that among whites, the average BMI rose from 25 to 28; among African-Americans, it increased from 27 to 30.

A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight. People are considered overweight if their BMI is 25 to 29.9, and obese if they have a BMI of 30 or more.

Avoiding Weight Gain May Help

Blot says that avoiding excessive weight gain and obesity may lower your risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, although that remains to be tested in a formal study.

Action is clearly needed, he tells WebMD.

"If current trends continue, with roughly a doubling in incidence rates every 10 years, esophageal carcinoma will become one of the leading causes of cancer death in the not too distant future," Blot says.

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