Medical Minute: Esophageal Cancer
Prolonged gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause damage to the lining of the esophagus. This damage can turn into a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can be a pre-cancer finding. Your provider may recommend that you have an upper GI endoscopy to investigate reflux, swallowing concerns or other upper gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. At the time of endoscopy, the specialist may see visible changes to the tissue and take a tissue specimen for further study.
Elwood “Woody” Martin, MD, a general surgeon, with the Heartburn Treatment Clinic at OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, was the first in Ohio to use a new screening procedure to check for the risk of esophageal cancer. “We can look for tumor markers within that specimen… and predict the likelihood of the patient progressing towards cancer over the next 5 years.”
Dr. Martin said historically, white males over the age of 50 have been in the highest risk category and make up 75-80 percent of esophageal cancer findings. With this new technology, providers will be able to better understand the risk of esophageal cancer across all patient populations. He added that once patient is diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, they enter a surveillance protocol based on their risk.
GERD, also referred to as “reflux,” is a chronic disease of the digestive track in which stomach acid and bile flow backward into the esophagus. The esophagus does not tolerate exposure to gastric contents. Chronic long-term GERD can negatively impact an individual’s quality of life.
Normally, GERD is prevented by the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a circular muscle at the bottom of the esophagus which essentially functions as a one-way valve that prevents backward flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. GERD occurs when the LES fails to function correctly.
Symptoms of reflux disease may include:
· Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
· Bloating • Excessive belching
· Abdominal pain
· Chest pain
· Shortness of breath
· Chronic cough
· Chronic bronchitis
· Recurrent pneumonia
· Ear pain
· Post nasal drip
· Chronic sore throat
· Chronic hoarseness
· Tooth decay/gingivitis/bad breath
· Globus (feeling like something is caught in your throat)
Ineffective treatment of chronic GERD can result in damage to the esophagus and potentially increase the risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. It is estimated that 50-60 million Americans have meaningful reflux symptoms on a monthly basis and about 20-25 million adults in the United States experience daily reflux symptoms. About two of five patients on acid suppression medical therapy indicate that they do not have adequate control of their GERD symptoms.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the Heartburn Treatment Clinic at Mansfield Hospital at 419-526-8504.