Control Acid Reflux To Prevent Esophageal Cancer

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Esophageal Cancer

Increase in obesity linked to rising numbers of esophageal cancer cases.

For most of his adult life, 49-year-old Jim Bonell suffered from acid reflux, but he never considered the condition dangerous. That is, until he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

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What Bonell didn't know was that his chronic acid reflux left him with a condition called Barrett's esophagus, which puts people at high risk for esophageal cancer. Barrett's is a condition in which the cells lining the lower esophagus change because of repeated exposure to stomach acid. Normally, the tissue lining the esophagus is similar to the lining in your mouth (squamous mucosa), but with Barrett's, the body replaces the normal esophageal lining with one similar to that found in the intestines.

"There were no symptoms that I had esophageal cancer," says Bonell. "Prior to being diagnosed, my acid reflux was really bad and getting worse. I was a Tums-eater. I'd eat a whole bunch of them."

Esophageal cancer rates are on the rise, and the increase may be due to an increase in obesity, says Mark B. Orringer, M.D. professor and head of thoracic surgery at the University of Michigan Health System. Obesity often causes a hiatus hernia and associated acid reflux.

Esophageal cancer has always carried a terrible prognosis. But thanks to an increasing awareness that heartburn may have serious implications along with earlier detection, improved staging tests and better treatment many patients like Bonell are winning the battle with this initially "silent" cancer.

Bonell has benefited from some of the surgical advances developed and refined at the U-M Health System. Traditionally, patients who needed to have their esophagus removed

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