Since the 1970s, the number of Americans being diagnosed with esophageal cancer has been steadily on the rise. As researchers and clinicians continue to investigate the reasons behind this alarming trend, it is important for everyone to protect themselves by learning to identify the early warning signs of this often stealth-like condition. Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, which is observed in April of each year, serves as an extra reminder to do so.
There is still much to be learned about the causes of esophageal cancer. However, scientists have identified a clear link between gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. GERD is a relatively common, noncancerous condition that causes the contents of the stomach, including its acidic digestive juices, to back up into the esophagus, sometimes all the way up into the throat. This can lead to a number of uncomfortable but seemingly harmless symptoms, such as:
- Sore throat
It’s important to pay close attention to symptoms like these because, with repeated exposure to stomach acids, the cells that line esophagus can start to undergo precancerous changes. This complication of GERD is known as Barrett’s esophagus, in which the lining of the esophagus begins to resemble the lining of the intestines. Over time, Barrett’s esophagus can ultimately progress to adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
As with most types of cancer, esophageal cancer that is detected early usually has more treatment options than when it is detected later. For instance, surgery to address advanced-stage esophageal cancer usually involves the removal of a tumor through a standard esophagectomy. However, early-stage esophageal cancer that is confined to the superficial lining of the esophagus can sometimes be treated with a less invasive endoscopic mucosal resection.
It’s also essential to note that Barrett’s esophagus, and ultimately esophageal cancer, can develop even if GERD produces only very mild symptoms, or if its symptoms are controlled with medication. This further underscores the importance of being vigilant and promptly reporting anything unusual to a physician.
For more information about esophageal cancer, call Moffitt Cancer Center at 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online to request an appointment with a specialist in our Gastrointestinal Oncology Program. We do not require referrals.