The Link Between Acid Reflux and Cancer

Following a meal, heartburn is rather typical. This is a symptom of acid reflux when it starts to happen frequently. Aside from the fact that it is uncomfortable and makes it difficult to fall asleep at night, does acid reflux have worse effects? Is there actually a link between acid reflux and cancer? You might also be wondering if acid reflux is connected to gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, such as stomach cancer and esophageal cancer.

The quick response is yes. But contrary to popular belief, the path is much more complicated. The majority of patients with the most prevalent kind of esophageal cancer often have a number of distinct alterations that begin with persistent acid reflux. So, is acid reflux a risk factor for cancer?

To answer all these questions, we need to understand what acid reflux is.

Acid Reflux 101

Our stomach receives the food we eat after it has passed through the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscles at the lower end of the esophagus. Controlling the flow of food between the esophagus and the stomach is the job of a healthy LES. The LES is meant to retain food in the stomach for digestion after it has moved there.

Food and acidic stomach contents might flow back into the esophagus when the LES is weak. The name of this condition is acid reflux. Heartburn, a burning feeling in the lower esophagus, and a few other irritating symptoms, including uncontrollable burping and regurgitation, are brought on by acid reflux. Your chance of developing cancer is not enhanced by just the occasional acid reflux. The problem starts when acid reflux is not just an occasional occurrence for you.

GERD 101

GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, is a condition of chronic acid reflux. Doctors may begin to think of acid reflux as a chronic condition if you get it at least twice a week for several weeks. Your doctor may reclassify acid reflux as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease when it develops into a chronic illness. Heartburn on a frequent basis plus:

  • Chest pain
  • Having trouble swallowing
  • Vomiting up food or drinks
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat

It's crucial to discuss any of these symptoms with your doctor because they could indicate GERD. GERD is the start of a link between acid reflux and cancer. Keep reading to find out how.

GERD and Cancer Risk

The esophagus tissue is fragile, and regular contact with acid can harm the cells, unlike the hard stomach lining that is frequently exposed to acid. The risk of getting esophageal cancer, a kind of gastrointestinal (GI) cancer, rises as a result of this damage over time.

Barrett’s Esophagus

GERD frequently comes with symptoms like regurgitation or heartburn. Barrett's esophagus may develop in certain people as a result of this GERD changing the cells that line the lower esophagus. Acid reflux damages the flat Pink lining of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, causing it to thicken and turn Red. In other words, gland cells take the place of the esophagus' squamous cells. This disorder is known as Barrett's esophagus. This disorder is another factor that links acid reflux and cancer risk.

Barrett’s Esophagus and Cancer Risk

Oesophageal cancer risk is increased by Barrett's esophagus. Eventually, as the tissue transforms into glandular tissue, Dysplasia, or Aberrant cell proliferation, might start. The cells are not malignant at this time, but they are more likely than other cells to develop into cancer in the future. Depending on how regular the cells appear under the microscope, Dysplasia might be high or low grade. The greatest risk of esophageal cancer is associated with high-grade Dysplasia. 

Your gastroenterologist may advise routine cancer tests and imaging if you have been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus in order to find cancer as early as feasible. GERD and Barrett's esophagus are not always associated with a cancer diagnosis. Oesophageal cancer risk is low, which is good news. According to studies, every year, between 0.1 and 0.4 percent of people with Barrett's esophagus go on to get cancer. Barrett’s esophagus is, therefore, a major link between acid reflux and cancer.

Acid Reflux Medications and Cancer Risks

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Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) have been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer, according to a 2018 Swedish study. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are often prescribed drugs to treat GERD and acid reflux. By essentially limiting the quantity of stomach acid that can be produced, this kind of medication decreases the risk of esophageal reflux disease. Long-term drug safety has come under scrutiny in recent years, according to experts.

G-cells are activated when there is not enough acid present. Gastrin production rises as a result of this. Gastrin, regrettably, can promote the development of gastrointestinal cancers. Over time, the tumours may develop into malignancies of the stomach, esophagus, or other parts of the GI tract. These are all the ways how acid reflux can increase cancer risk

There are some ways you can keep the risk of acid reflux leading to something worse in check. The first would be some lifestyle changes and food habits to help you maintain a healthier diet. A healthier diet means fewer chances of acid reflux and cancer risk

Acid Reflux and Cancer Risk Factors

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You should also pay attention to these risk factors, as acid reflux can affect different people in different ways.

  • Over the past five years, have you had regular acid reflux?
  • Can't you control the acid reflux even by taking over-the-counter medication?
  • Are you over 50?
  • Are you a smoker?
  • Do you have an overweight problem?
  • Have you ever lost weight mysteriously?
  • Are you a male?
  • Are you Caucasian?
  • Do you have a hard time swallowing liquids or solids?

The Bottom Line

If your answer to several of these questions is yes, then you should be aware that there is a link between acid reflux and cancer. This is your sign to make some lifestyle changes and take steps to ensure that acid reflux is not a risk factor for you.

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