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Can Acid Reflux Cause Cancer?

Persistent acid reflux harms the epithelial cells present in the esophagus. This prompts the body to increase its cell production in an attempt to repair the cells. As the cycle of damage and repair continues, the probability of tumor-formation also increases. Any tumor is a kind of stepping stone towards cancer, which means that acid reflux does inadvertently cause cancer.  



cancer caused by acid refluxWhat is acid reflux? 


Acid Reflux or gastro-esophageal reflux is a condition when the acid present within the stomach rises up along the esophagus. Continued problems with acid reflux, amounting to more than twice every week, are characterized as Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). The basic symptom of this disorder is a burning sensation experienced in the throat and chest of the person affected. In some people, especially children, the burning feeling is replaced by respiratory problems as well as coughing and vomiting. 




The sphincter muscle present at the bottom of the esophagus is responsible for preventing stomach acid to climb back up in the throat. However, in some cases, the sphincter muscle does not work well and fails to keep the acid inside the stomach. This happens when the stomach pressure is more than what the sphincter muscle can handle. This is common during pregnancy, after eating a very large meal or if you suffer from hiatal hernia.  


Almost everyone suffers from heartburn at some point in their lives. But one out of three adults experiences heartburn regularly and one out of ten people has heartburn attacks daily. In most cases, the symptoms are mild and pass over soon but it is quite common for most mild symptoms to develop into severe cases of acid reflux, which can affect the quality of life of the person concerned. Heartburn is a common condition among smokers, drinkers, pregnant women and overweight people.  


Certain foods also induce acid reflux. Caffeine laden beverages, acidic foods like lemon and milk, alcohol, chocolates, excess spicy foods, tomatoes, peppermint and hot drinks can cause acid or increase the symptoms. Posture too can give rise to this disease. Lying down immediately after a meal or being bent over constantly increases the reflux action. Putting pressure on your stomach by wearing a tight belt or being hunched over also makes it worse. 


How does acid reflux cause cancer? 


When acid reflux is left untreated, the severity increases rapidly. The acid not only damages the stomach lining, but also climbs up into the esophagus. Over time, the esophageal cells develop scar tissue due to continued damage and repair. The normal cells turn tough and become acid resistant, thus causing a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.  


With time, the hardened scar tissues change shape and color and turn abnormal in appearance. This abnormality in form and appearance of the cells is an indication of gastrointestinal cancer. People who suffer from GERD or experience GERD symptoms frequently need to have constant checkups done by physicians. Regular checkups ensure that the person follows a prescribed treatment plan, thus preventing cancer. 




Tests for acid reflux are usually not necessary since the symptoms are enough to identify it. Basic medication is prescribed on presumed acid reflux. In case the condition is extremely severe, an endoscopy is done to determine the extent of damage caused by acid, and medicines are prescribed accordingly.  

Endoscopy is a test where a thin and flexible telescope is passed into the stomach through the esophagus. The telescope allows the doctor or a nurse to take a look inside the stomach. If it is reddish and inflamed, the person is diagnosed with esophagitis. Heart tracing, X-rays and other tests may also be done to rule out other medical conditions. 




The normal treatment procedure for acid reflux consists of making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, monitoring food intake, and losing weight, if necessary. Doctors advise against eating acid producing foods and also wearing restrictive clothing. Other changes include eating two to three hours before sleeping and lying with the head in an elevated position. Surgery is recommended for severe cases where lifestyle changes fail to make any difference. 


Acid reflux is a treatable symptom whereas cancer may not always be treated successfully. If you suffer from this disease, get a checkup done immediately to prevent the possibility of cancer.