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Untreated Heartburn May Raise Risk for Esophageal Cancer, Study Says
Date:7/25/2012

WEDNESDAY, July 25 (HealthDay News) -- Rates of esophageal cancer have surged due to a lack of awareness about what causes the disease and how it can be prevented, experts say.

The esophagus is the muscular tube that carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. There were six times as many cases of esophageal cancer in 2001 as there were in 1975, according to a team from the University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers noted that one key way people can reduce their risk for the disease is by managing heartburn and acid reflux, often called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

"Obesity and poor diet have spiked the numbers suffering from acid reflux," Dr. V. Raman Muthusamy, associate clinical professor of medicine and endoscopy director at the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders, said in a university news release.

If left untreated, GERD can cause stomach acid to wash repeatedly into the esophagus, causing changes in the tissue lining. This condition is called Barrett's esophagus, and people diagnosed with Barrett's may be up to 40 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer, the UCLA experts explained.

Complicating matters, people with esophageal cancer may not experience any symptoms other than heartburn, which could prevent early detection of the disease, said Muthusamy and his colleague Dr. Kevin Ghassemi, clinical programs director at the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders.

"Early identification, treatment and management of changes in the esophageal lining are critical to catching problems early," Ghassemi said in the news release.

To help people know when to be concerned about acid reflux or heartburn and reduce the risks associated with the condition, Muthusamy and Ghassemi offered the following tips:

  • Anyone experiencing heartburn more than once a week should visit their doctor to manage the condition.
  • Lose extra pounds. Being overweight can ma
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