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Heartburn, acid reflux linked to cancer risk:

Antacids, other treatments don't lessen danger.

March 17, 1999 Web posted at: 7:47 p.m. EST (0047 GMT)

BOSTON (CNN) -- People who suffer from chronic heartburn and acid reflux are substantially more likely to develop a deadly cancer of the esophagus, according to a new study.

Researchers also found that people who take antacids and other medications to battle heartburn and acid reflux do not reduce their cancer risk. Those treatments only mask symptoms and don't prevent or cure the underlying condition. The results of the Swedish study are reported in the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest that people commonly associate with spicy foods or overeating. Acid reflux is a regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the esophagus because of a faulty valve. The Swedish researchers found that people who suffered heartburn, regurgitation or both at least once a week had eight times the risk of developing adenocarcinoma, the most deadly form of esophageal cancer. The risk was 11 times higher for those who suffered from acid reflux at night. There was no increased risk for another form of esophageal cancer called squamous-cell carcinoma.

Doctors believe that because the esophagus isn't lined like the stomach, stomach acid irritates the lower esophagus and, over time, triggers precancerous changes that can progress into cancer. "Reflux symptoms should not be dismissed as trivial," said Dr. Jesper Langergren of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. "If you have reflux symptoms and you get new symptoms --- maybe you have symptoms for several years and maybe the symptoms seem to change, like difficulty swallowing -- then you should seek medical care."

However, the overall risk for developing esophageal cancer remains extremely low. While 20 to 30 percent of Americans report getting heartburn at least once a month, only about 12,500 people a year develop esophageal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. Statistics do show, however, that over the past 20 years, cancer of the esophagus has become increasingly prevalent among white men. Researchers don't know why.

Exactly what causes heartburn and acid reflux isn't clear, either. Previous studies have indicated a link between acid reflux and obesity, smoking and alcohol, but this study found no such correlation. Nor did the Swedish researchers find a definitive link to spicy foods. Some doctors recommend avoiding certain foods to relieve mild heartburn and acid reflux, including onions, tomatoes, coffee, chocolate and carbonated beverages. They also recommend against lying down after a full meal.

Be sure to read the report titled, "Indigestion, Heartburn and Hiatal Hernia: Causes and Treatment!"



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Jeffrey T. Maehr, D.C. (Ret.)
Certified Nutritional Microscopist
Wholistic Nutritional Consultant

Email: drhealth (at) purehealthsystems (dot) com

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