Understanding the connection between frequent heartburn and cancer

By Steven A. Edmundowicz, MD ~

Almost seven in ten Denverites say they suffer from heartburn two or more times a week and 54% say they are surprised to learn that chronic heartburn can lead to a common form of esophageal cancer, according to a new survey commissioned by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

As a gastroenterologist, I encourage sufferers to think differently about their condition and consider getting checked to be sure it’s not something more serious. Everyday symptoms may indicate changes in the cells lining the esophagus that could progress to a common and deadly form of esophageal cancer, one of the most rapidly growing cancers in the US.

There’s more reason than ever to take action. New developments in endoscopy and specialized testing can help prevent esophageal cancer. Gastroenterologists can more reliably detect changes in the cells when they are still harmless, and more easily treat or remove them before they can progress to cancer. This is good news, especially for 79% of Denver residents with chronic heartburn who say they are likely to see a gastroenterologist if they knew about these recent advances.

I know there are plenty of men with chronic heartburn who reach for a greasy hamburger with one hand and their heartburn medicine with the other. We want to encourage people with chronic heartburn, particularly white men over the age of 50 who are at more risk, to see a gastroenterologist.

According to the American Cancer Society, 85% of esophageal cancers are found in those age 55 and older; men are more likely to get the disease than women. Experts attribute this to the rise of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), associated with obesity and a high-stress lifestyle.

Everyone deserves the best possible protection against developing esophageal cancer.
Visit www.PreventHeartburnCancer.org for information. For help finding a gastroenterologist, visit www.asge.org/home/for-patients.

Steven A. Edmundowicz, MD, FASGE, President of ASGE and Professor of Medicine and Interim Division Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, Colorado.