Heartburn’s burn and the risk for esophageal cancer

esophageal cancer

Reflux of stomach acid over time can damage the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.


Heartburn. It’s a symptom that many people experience on a regular basis. What many people don’t realize is that long-term heartburn can put them at risk for esophageal cancer. The esophagus is the long tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Reflux of stomach acid over the long haul can damage the lining of the esophagus, which can lead to cancer.

Dr. Mark Orringer, professor of thoracic surgery at the University of Michigan, and a pioneer in esophageal surgery, has seen a change over the last three decades in the type of patient developing esophageal cancer. Once primarily found in individuals who drank alcohol and smoked excessively, it is now seen in greater numbers with those suffering from obesity, coupled with reflux.

Other risk factors:

  • Age – most common in individuals 55 and older
  • Gender – 3x higher in men
  • Obesity
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Reflux (GERD)
  • Barrett’s esophagus (tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the intestinal lining)
  • Overeating

Is there regular screening performed to detect esophageal cancer?

No. There is no screening test for those with average to low risk; however, people at higher risk, like those with Barrett’s esophagus are monitored more closely for the disease.

What can I do to prevent cancer of the esophagus?

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Don’t smoke
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Treat reflux (heartburn)

Take the next step:

  • Learn more about esophageal cancer from the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center (PDF)
  • View this detailed guide on esophageal cancer from the American Cancer Society.
  • See what the National Cancer Institute says about obesity and cancer risk.
  • Learn more about heartburn from the National Institutes of Health.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an e-mail.

KimZThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



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