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What Role Does The Esophagus Play In The Digestive System?

Today, May 29, 2015, is World Digestive Health Day (#WDHD2015)

As advocates for improving esophageal health and preventing esophageal cancer, The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation understands the importance of awareness and education of the important role that the esophagus plays in the digestive system.

Esophageal cancer is considered the fastest growing cancer in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute and is also considered one of the deadliest cancers.   Esophageal cancer research is extremely underfunded and there are no routine or standard tests to diagnose esophageal cancer in earlier stages to improve early detection and survival rates.

world digestive day 2015 salgi esophageal cancer research foundation what role esophagus play digestive system

The esophagus is the first channel in the digestive tube and plays a simple yet significant part in the human digestive system.   The esophagus is a muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach.  This takes place when we swallow and food or liquids are pushed from the mouth, down and into the esophagus and empty into the stomach.  The lower esophageal sphincter is located at the base of the esophagus and is responsible for controlling the passage of food and liquid between the esophagus and stomach.

The LES is a ring-shaped muscle which relaxes to allow food and liquid into the stomach.  Once the food and liquid pass through the relaxed sphincter, it closes back up, thus keeping the food and liquid in the stomach.

Problems arise when the LES weakens and does not close properly.  When this happens, stomach contents escape the stomach and flow back up into the esophagus.  This backflow of stomach content is called reflux.  For those who experience reflux symptoms (heartburn included) more than twice a week may have Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

Sometimes Heartburn Isn’t Just An Inconvenience™

Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux disease.  Other GERD symptoms include, but are not limited to, burning sensation in chest, regurgitation, chest pain and difficulty swallowing.

Some symptoms of acid reflux disease could also be indicators of something more serious.  For instance, RefluxMD states on their website that “although mild difficulty swallowing is often a common symptom of GERD, more severe difficulty swallowing could be a symptom of [esophageal] cancer and should be promptly evaluated.

Many people rely on medications, both over-the-counter and from a prescription, to help control their acid reflux symptoms.   Unfortunately, these medications only work to treat the symptoms of the disease, but do not stop the disease from progressing (getting worse) and do not stop damage from occurring to the esophagus.

Dr. Jamie Koufman, a physician in New York who specializes in voice disorders and acid reflux, explains in a New York Times article that a Danish study “concluded that there were no cancer-protective effects from using the common anti-reflux medications, called proton pump inhibitors and that regular long-term use was actually associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.”

Over time, the back-flow of stomach contents and acids irritate the esophagus and can cause serious damage to the esophagus, including Barrett’s esophagus (a sometimes pre-esophageal cancer condition) and can increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer.  Even if you are taking medications and not experiencing any symptoms, damage could still be occurring to the esophagus.

It is important to discuss any medical conditions or concerns with your doctor.  While the information provided here is intended for educational purposes, always speak to your doctor about your health.

If you or someone you know has GERD, RefluxMD has put together an eBook that is a must-read!  To download a FREE copy of I Have GERD, Now What?” click here.

The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation asks that you join us in raising awareness of the importance of esophageal health today and everyday!

The following are some additional links to articles from our website and others for further reading on this important topic:

The Lower Esophageal Sphincter, An Important Muscle You Didn’t Know You Had 

“I Have GERD, Now What” Free eBook provided by, RefluxMD 

I have esophageal cancer after 12 years of taking antireflux medication, RefluxMD

How do I find a GERD expert?, RefluxMD 

The Dangers of Eating Late at Night, Dr. Jamie Koufman

How is Heartburn Linked To Esophageal Cancer?

Join The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation in raising awareness of the important role that the esophagus plays in the digestive system and spreading the word about esophageal cancer online.

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