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Heartburn increases chances of cancer of the esophagus and larynx

It is possible, Abnet said, that similar mechanisms could also contribute to squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus and cancer of the larynx.

Whether treating GERD reduces these cancer risks “remains an open question,” he said.

In the United States, he noted, the main drivers of cancers studied here are smoking and binge drinking.

“So avoiding these exposures is the most important preventative measure,” Abnet said.

The results are based on more than 490,600 American adults aged 50 to 71 at baseline. Almost a quarter had GERD.

In about 16 years, more than 900 participants were diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, while about 300 developed the squamous cell form. During that time, 876 people were diagnosed with laryngeal cancer.

On average, according to the Abnet team, people with GERD were about twice as likely to develop any of the three cancers as people without GERD. This was after taking into account smoking, drinking habits and body weight.

Peter Campbell, scientific director of epidemiological research at the American Cancer Society, called the study “solid.”

There are no standard screening tests for cancers. But Campbell said people with GERD may be aware of the potential symptoms, which include: difficulty swallowing, chest pain, hoarseness or voice changes, chronic cough, and weight loss.

“It’s important to note that having these signs or symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean a person has cancer at any of these organ sites,” Campbell said.

But, he says, anyone with GERD who notices these symptoms should talk to their doctor.

Likewise, Abnet said people with symptoms of GERD should ask their doctors about lifestyle changes and / or medications that might help.

Lifestyle tactics for managing GERD include eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol, and losing weight.

As it happens, Abnet noted, these same measures can help reduce the risk of many types of cancer.

More information

The US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has an overview of GERD.

SOURCES: Christian Abnet, PhD, MPH, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, US National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md .; Peter Campbell, PhD, Scientific Director, Epidemiological Research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Cancer, February 22, 2021, online