“Chronic heartburn may be more than just a pain in the esophagus.”
Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends to gather together, share thanks and enjoy a delicious feast. The week of Thanksgiving is also dedicated to bringing awareness to a growing disease which affects one out of five Americans.
That disease is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Also known as acid reflux disease, GERD is a condition of the digestive system, which has increased significantly in recent decades.
GERD is also a primary risk factor for esophageal cancer, one of the fastest growing and deadliest cancers in the United States. Esophageal cancer, similar to GERD, has also increased significantly in past decades. In fact, incidence of esophageal cancer has risen over 600% and with an overall five-year survival rate of only 17.5%.
The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit which awarded its very first grant to esophageal cancer research earlier this year, is working to once again bring awareness of the dangerous link between GERD and esophageal cancer.
Heartburn, a common symptom of GERD, does not typically cause major concern, as billions of Americans experience it at some point in their lives. However, persistent heartburn, which occurs two or more times a week, should not be taken lightly as it could be a symptom of the disease.
President of The Salgi Foundation knows all too well the dangers of heartburn and acid reflux. “My father suffered from chronic heartburn for years and was never warned by doctors of the possible risks. We found out too late, once he started having difficulty swallowing, that his chronic reflux had led to esophageal cancer.” She continued, “My father passed away a little over a year after he was diagnosed and it was, and still is, devastating.”
Many chronic heartburn sufferers turn to antacids or other medications for relief. Some medications, known as Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), work to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. These medications treat the symptoms of GERD but not the disease.
A poll conducted by RefluxMD, a San Diego, CA, based Internet healthcare company, focused on helping people suffering from reflux, showed that the majority of patients who were prescribed PPIs by their doctors were never told the medications “only treated symptoms, but that reflux would continue and the disease could progress” and were also never told “there were potential negative side effects (e.g. osteoporosis, bacterial infections, etc.”).
According to RefluxMD, PPIs are overprescribed and although long-term use of PPIs daily may reduce or eliminate symptoms, they do not stop the flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. Consequently, GERD can progress and potentially lead to Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.”
Unfortunately, esophageal cancer has few, if any, early symptoms. Symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, chronic cough or hoarseness, food getting stuck or choking while eating often occur once the cancer has spread and reaches an advanced stage.
To make matters even worse, there are currently no routine or standard screenings to detect esophageal cancer in its earliest stages. The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation encourages those who suffer from reflux to be proactive about their health, stating “never ignore frequent heartburn and never rely on medications alone. Talk to your doctor about all of your options, especially how you can get screened for any possible damage.”
Please join us in raising awareness of the dangerous link between Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) and esophageal cancer!
The more awareness we raise about risk factors and symptoms of esophageal cancer and the importance of early detection, the more lives that can potentially be saved!
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