Every day, as many as 15 million Americans experience heartburn or chronic acid reflux, but don’t consider how dangerous this condition could potentially become. Chronic acid reflux can lead to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition that increases one’s risk to develop cancer of the esophagus. About three million Americans currently have Barrett’s esophagus.
Esophageal cancer can develop as a result of the lining of the lower esophagus—the 8-inch long muscular tube that connects the throat with the stomach—being repeatedly exposed to stomach acid over time. The American Cancer Society reports that esophageal cancer is three to four times more common in men than women. Among individuals with esophageal cancer, eight out of ten cases are diagnosed between ages 55 and 85.
However, thanks to an increasing awareness that heartburn may have serious implications along with earlier detection, improved staging tests and better treatment, many patients are winning the battle with this initially “silent” cancer.
Early Preventative Measures
If you experience frequent heartburn or acid reflux, there are a number of things you can do to reduce your risks. Maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and don’t lie down after eating—try eating earlier to give your stomach time to empty before bed. Additionally, sleep with your head elevated so stomach acid doesn’t affect your esophagus, and take an antacid, which will neutralize stomach acid.
Get Treated Today
If you have a long history of severe heartburn or acid indigestion, talk to your doctor about Barrett’s esophagus, which can be treated before more complicated conditions develop. Even if your acid reflux symptoms are controlled, you still could be at risk. The only way to diagnose Barrett’s is with an endoscopy and biopsy.
Fortunately, Bingham Memorial has a general surgeon who specializes in heartburn, acid reflux and GERD. W. Kurt Birkenhagen, MD focuses on conditions like Barrett’s esophagus. He has offices in Blackfoot and Pocatello. You can schedule a consultation by calling 239-8008.