Acid reflux is a common condition, which occurs when the stomach acid drips off into the esophagus. It may lead to cause symptoms like heartburn, nausea, sore throat, and regurgitation. There can be many causes, which result in causing heartburn. Some people experience it after eating certain foods and drinks. On the other hand, some people have it due to a lazy lifestyle. Almost everyone experiences the condition once in his or her life. However, effective acid reflux treatment can help relieve your symptoms and prevent worsening your condition.
If you go through frequent episodes of heartburn i.e., more than two or three times a week, you may have the possibility of having esophageal cancer.
Can acid reflux lead to esophageal cancer?
The esophagus or food pipe is a tunnel that carries the foods and drinks from your mouth to the stomach. In the case of people who have the problem of reflux diseases, the stomach acid leaks into the food pipe leading to reflux issues. With time, the damage to your esophagus can lead to its cancer.
What causes esophageal cancer?
Healthcare providers and experts aren’t sure what leads to cause the disease of esophageal cancer. However, people who have frequent episodes of heartburn and other symptoms of GERD remain at risk of having the condition.
Reflux diseases make your stomach acid splash into the esophagus, which can go into your throat as well. Your stomach has a lining, which is called a lower esophageal sphincter (LES). It closes up as soon as the food goes into the stomach. However, when it becomes weak or relaxes, the stomach acid can drop off into the food pipe, which does not have any lining to prevent or impede the acid.
The occurrence of the condition on a frequent mode can destroy the esophagus as it does not have an outer covering or lining over it. Nevertheless, go to your doctor for a diagnosis if you experience recurrent heartburn. He or she may diagnose you and go ahead in your acid reflux treatment accordingly.
What are the other complications of GERD?
The condition of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lead to severe complications. Esophageal cancer is one of them. However, other problems that can take place because of reflux diseases are-
- Barrette’s esophagus
This is a condition takes place when the cells in the esophagus are replaced by the cells, which are lookalike of the intestinal lining. At times, these cells grow into precancerous cells.
People with Barrett’s esophagus are also likely to develop esophageal cancer. However, a majority of its patients haven’t complaint or been diagnosed with such complications.
This condition causes the esophagus lining to swell up. The swelling leads to pain and uneasiness. It happens due to the same reason acid reflux takes place. The dripping of stomach acid causes the condition, and it ultimately leads to esophageal swelling.
- Esophageal stricture
When people have recurrent heartburn, a scar develops on the food pipe due to the leakage of stomach acid over time. These scars build up wide, making the esophageal lining narrow. These build-ups are called strictures. They make the gulping down of foods and drinks tough, leading to dehydration and loss of weight.
- Esophageal ulcers
Frequent episodes of heartburn can cause ulcers and sores in the lining of the food pipe. Common symptoms people with this condition can face are-
- Painful swelling
- Chest pain
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
The most frequent and ordinary symptom of throat cancer is difficulty gulping down the food, which is known by another name, dysphagia. The problem becomes more critical when the tumor develops.
Taking acid reflux treatment on time can prevent complications. However, another symptom faced by people is pain during swallowing the food. It is typically experienced when the piece of food goes through the tumor.
The trouble faced by people during gulping down the food gradually leads to loss of weight because people eat less in such conditions. However, some people also grow thinner because of increased metabolism and loss of appetite because of cancer. Some other potential signs and symptoms in people with such cancer are as follows-
- Bleeding in the esophagus
- Frequent episodes of indigestion
- Chronic cough
The condition does not show symptoms in its initial stage. Usually, the signs and symptoms become visible and noticeable in the advanced stage.
For this reason, it is significant to reach out to your doctor for a diagnosis if you experience recurrent episodes of heartburn and other symptoms of GERD. Timely and effective treatment can help relieve your symptoms and put a stop to the severe complications.
What makes you prone to esophageal cancer?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the major risk factor for throat cancer. However, certain other factors can also elevate your risk of having cancer of the esophagus. They are as follows-
- Tobacco use
The use of tobacco is extremely harmful to your body. The dangerous ingredients in tobacco, including tar, carbon monoxide, and nicotine, make you prone to cancer of the esophagus and other chronic diseases.
Being overweight is another risk factor for such diseases. Obesity is the root cause of several chronic and irreversible health problems, including GERD and esophagus cancer. Along with using the acid reflux treatment, losing weight can impede the difficulties.
Men are more likely to have such health conditions than women are. In many pieces of research, men are diagnosed with esophageal cancer than women.
Eating certain foods can induce the symptoms of acid reflux. The frequent episodes of heartburn can lead to complications like esophageal cancer. Some of the foods and drinks, which are bad for heartburn, are-
- High-fat foods
- Spicy foods
- Citrus fruits
- Carbonated beverages
People above the age of 55 are prone to develop GERD complications.
Alcohol is another dangerous factor, which can put you at risk of having severe diseases. If you are a drinker, you are elevating your risk of having cancer of the throat.
- Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy in the upper abdomen or chest area can elevate a person’s risk of having such cancer and other chronic diseases.
How do you know if it is esophageal cancer?
It is significant to know about the disease you have. The sooner it is diagnosed, the better your doctor may work to manage your condition. On the other hand, the absence of a proper healing procedure can lead to severe and irreversible complications. Reach out to your doctor if you experience recurrent episodes of heartburn and the symptoms we discussed above, including esophagus bleeding, hoarseness, chronic cough, and indigestion. Your doctor may conduct the following test to confirm the case-
- Physical test
Under this diagnosis, the expert may ask you about the medical history of acid reflux and other related diseases. If he or she suspects that you may have cancer of the esophagus, the following diagnostic test may be conducted-
Under this procedure, your doctor may put a snack-like and long tube into your throat. A camera is attached to the tool, which helps examine the nearby tissues. In addition, your doctor may take a swap of your esophagus and send it to a laboratory for testing. If you are already undergoing acid reflux treatment, talk with your doctor about the ways to manage the test and the healing procedure.
- Barium swallow
It is another diagnostic test to rule out throat cancer. Under this procedure, your doctor may ask you to drink a chalky liquid. This liquid covers your esophagus and your expert takes an X-ray.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
Doctors may recommend computed tomography (CT) scan if he or she finds no cancerous cells. The test helps in determining the presence of cancer in other parts of the body. As soon as your doctor identifies the case, your healing procedure may begin.
What can help treat esophageal cancer?
The treatment for this condition relies upon the stage of the disease. The major treatment option may include radiation therapy, surgery, and chemotherapy. However, sometimes your doctor may also use a combination of treatment methods.
- Radiation therapy
Radiation therapy uses high rays of power to destroy cancer cells. The process may be done from outside the body by directing on the cancer cells. However, your doctor may also perform it within the body.
Doctors may perform this type of treatment before or after the surgical procedure. Nevertheless, radiation therapy is mostly used in combination with chemotherapy for people who have throat cancer.
Doctors recommend surgery in the early stage of the disease. The tumor can be completely taken out through this procedure. Moreover, doctors often use an endoscope for surgery.
In case when the cancer cells have made room beneath tissue levels, it becomes necessary to eliminate the cancerous section of your food pipe and re-fix the remaining parts. Moreover, in severe cases, your doctor may also eliminate the upper part of your lymph nodes or stomach. Besides being a treatment method for esophageal cancer, surgery is also an acid reflux treatment for severe cases.
This procedure uses a drug to defeat the cancer cells. Doctors often perform chemotherapy before, after the surgical operation or with an arrangement with radiation therapy.
You and your doctor may sit and decide what the most suitable treatment for you is. Moreover, if you have throat cancer, your doctor may look upon the stage of cancer and begin with the most efficient treatment method. It is better to reach out to specialists like-
- Thoracic surgeon
- Radiation oncologist
- Medical oncologist
No matter what you and your doctor choose as a treatment procedure for your healing, you may also need to manage your acid reflux symptoms. It may include making supportive lifestyle shifts and dietary changes as per your treatment plan.
How can you prevent esophageal cancer?
Managing the symptoms of acid reflux and working on preventive measures can help reduce the risk of throat cancer. Although you can talk to your doctor for effective prevention, some of the ways are as follows-
- Use medications on time
Medications such as antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) should be used as prescribed to relieve the symptoms and prevent complications.
- Cut off alcohol consumption
Excessive consumption of alcohol can irritate the lining of your esophagus and cause heartburn and other symptoms of Gastroesophageal reflux diseases (GERD).
- Manage your weight
Obesity is one of the risk factors for acid reflux and its complications like throat cancer. Experts do not identify the exact cause that leads obesity to such diseases. However, the excess weight in the belly affects the esophagus, leading to stomach acid leakage in the food pipe. Managing your weight can lend you a hand in acid reflux treatment too.
Supportive diet, regular exercise, and weight loss pills can help you get rid of obesity. However, the following are some weight loss-friendly foods-
Following are some exercises that can lend you a hand in managing your weight-
- Quit smoking
Smoking can never be good for anybody. The harmful chemicals present in cigarettes, including tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide, can cause damage to the food pipe, leading to chronic diseases. Giving up smoking can help support your treatment and put off the risk of complications. Quit smoking treatments such as nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), behavioral therapy, Champix, or Cold Turkey can help get over nicotine addiction. Moreover, doing regular exercises, spending time with family and friends, and making time for your hobbies can also lend your hand.
- Do not lie after eating the food
People who lie just after eating the food remain at risk of heartburn and other GERD symptoms. Therefore, avoid this habit to prevent the condition. Lying down just after the meals makes it easy for the stomach acid to drip off into the esophagus.
Other preventions are-
- Chew your food properly
- Avoid eating in bulk
- Eat smaller meals
- Avoid drinking carbonated beverages
- Elevate your bed head to 6-8 inches
For more information about acid reflux treatment, complications, and their remedies, consult with your doctor.