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For Most, Chronic Heartburn Not a Big Risk for Esophageal Cancer

By Ellin Holohan
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Contrary to popular belief, acid reflux disease, better known as heartburn, is not much of a risk factor for esophageal cancer for most people, according to new research.

"It's a rare cancer," said study author Dr. Joel H. Rubenstein, an assistant professor in the University of Michigan department of internal medicine.

"About 1 in 4 people have symptoms of GERD [acid reflux disease] and that's a lot of people," he said. "But 25 percent of people aren't going to get this cancer. No way."

GERD is characterized by the frequent rise of stomach acid into the esophagus.

Rubenstein said he was concerned that as medical technology advances, enthusiasm for screening for esophageal cancer will increase, though there is no evidence that widespread screening has a benefit. About 8,000 cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, he said.

The study was published this month in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Using computer models based on data from a national cancer registry and other published research about acid reflux disease, the study found only 5,920 cases of esophageal cancer among whites younger than 80 years old, with or without acid reflux disease, in the U.S. population in 2005.

However, white men over 60 years old with regular acid reflux symptoms accounted for 36 percent of these cases. Women accounted for only 12 percent of the cases, regardless of age and whether or not they had acid reflux disease.

People with no acid reflux symptoms accounted for 34 percent of the cases, the authors said. Men under 60 accounted for 33 percent of the cases.

For women, the risk for the cancer was negligible, about the same as that of men for developing breast cancer, or less than 1 percent, the researchers said.

Yet the vast majority of gastroenterologists survey

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