How to lower your risk of esophageal cancer

An important part of preventing cancer is to acknowledge risk factors associated with the disease. Studies have shown that those with the following risk factors can be more likely to develop esophageal cancer.  Having a risk factor or multiple risk factors does not mean that one will develop esophageal cancer. Also, those without any of risk factors have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

While Doctors are unable to explain why some with one or even many risk factors never develop esophageal cancer, risk factors are used to help prevent cancer and other diseases.

–       Age 65 or older

–       Males are more than three times as likely as women to develop esophageal cancer in the U.S.

–       Smoking

–       Heavy drinking

–       Diet low in fruits and vegetables, high in fat and cholesterol

–       Obesity

–       Acid reflux and GERD

–       Barrett esophagus

Everyone can help in the prevention of esophageal cancer and other diseases by doing their best to maintain a healthy weight, abstain from all tobacco use, consume alcohol in moderation and include healthy fruits and vegetables in their everyday diet.

Patients with acid reflux or GERD can manage the symptoms with lifestyle and nutrition changes and with the help of their doctor through anti-reflux medications.

Avoiding certain foods (GERD shopping list!), eating no earlier than four hours before bedtime, staying upright after meals and maintaining a healthy weight can help to suppress reflux symptoms.

If acid reflux is not managed properly, over time, reflux can damage the tissue of the esophagus and over time lead to “Barrett esophagus” which is when cells in the lower part of the esophagus are abnormal.

Barrett esophagus typically does not produce symptoms and its presence greatly increases the risk of “adenocarcinoma” of the esophagus. Smoking greatly increases esophageal cancer in those diagnosed with Barrett esophagus.

Patients can still develop adenocarcinoma with Barrett esophagus.   Adenocarcinoma is cancer of the lower esophagus near the stomach.  Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of esophageal cancer and has been steadily rising since the 1970s.

While early esophageal cancer might not produce noticeable symptoms, common symptoms as cancer growth becomes more progressive are:

–       Pain when swallowing

–       Pain the chest or back

–       Weight loss

–       Heartburn

–       Food which gets stuck in the esophagus

–       Food that travels back up from the stomach

–       A hoarse voice or a cough that does not pass within two weeks.

Those with any of the symptoms listed above should contact their doctor.

National Cancer Institute: What you need to know about Cancer of the Esophagus

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