Heartburn: Does it Lead to Esophageal Cancer?
Heartburn is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest just behind the breastbone. Other common heartburn symptoms include chest pain after eating, burning taste in the throat, difficulty swallowing, sensation of food sticking in the chest, and chronic cough, sore throat, or hoarseness. Mild, occasional heartburn is not great cause for concern, but severe heartburn accompanied by acid reflux can lead to other health problems.
Although heartburn does not typically lead to esophageal cancer, it can pose other health risks, especially if accompanied by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly called acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acids are forced back up into the throat, which can damage esophageal tissue over a prolonged period of time. If left untreated, Acid reflux can eventually lead to esophageal cancer.
Heartburn is a fairly common condition affecting about 10% of Americans. It is caused by acid splashing back up and out of the stomach. It’s most often triggered by eating spicy foods, fried foods, caffeine, and large meals, as well taking medications and exercising after eating. Chronic heartburn that occurs several times per week could indicate GERD.
- Dietary modifications (less fried and spicy foods, caffeine, peppermint, and large meals)
- Potent prescription antacid medications (under doctor supervision)
- Lifestyle changes: no eating before bedtime, waiting 1-2 hours after eating before exercising, and eating smaller meals)
- Surgery to prevent acid reflux
- Over-the-counter antacids for mild heartburn (Pepcid AC, Tagamet HR, and Zantac 75)
Barrett’s Esophagus, a condition in which cells similar to the stomach’s lining develop in the lower esophagus, is present in about 5% of people diagnosed with GERD. Patients diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus are at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. Although there is no reason to panic if you are experiencing acid reflux symptoms, it is important to seek medical attention so that the condition does not become unmanageable.
If all other treatments fail, your doctor may suggest surgery in order to repair the lower esophageal sphincter. The procedure involves using a laparoscope and will require a short hospital stay.
Many pharmaceutical advertisements use scare tactics to lure patients into taking their medications by claiming that heartburn could lead to cancer. While this assertion is false, chronic heartburn should be taken seriously so that the potential for other health risks do not arise.
If you are experiencing heartburn, acid reflux, or believe that you might have GERD symptoms, please contact Bay Area Gastroenterology Clinic at 281-480-6264 to schedule an appointment.For more information, please contact:
Bay Area Gastroenterology P. A.
1015 Medical Center
Webster, Texas 77598
f: 281-480-4046 Methodist St. John
2060 Space Park Drive
Nassau Bay, TX 77058
f: 281-339-7623 Memorial Southeast
11920 Astoria Boulevard
Houston, TX 77089
f: 281-484-0740 Pearland Office
10905 Memorial Herman Drive
Pearland, Texas 77548