Expert, Baiya Krishnadason, Thoracic Surgeon, Says Young Americans Showing Higher Incidence of Acid Reflux Are Developing Esophageal Cancer.

Recently, clinics are seeing younger Americans present with higher incidences of acid reflux, which can lead to other health problems. “The combination of tobacco, alcohol, obesity, and acid reflux is common in younger patients with esophageal cancer,” according to Dr. Baiya Krishnadasan, thoracic surgical oncologist, and an expert in minimally invasive surgery for esophageal cancer. Because of how uncommon esophageal cancer is, there is currently no screening for it. Nearly 20,000 people a year will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and usually, it is diagnosed too late.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

signs and symptoms of acid reflux
Difficulty swallowing and changes in your voice may be signs of esophageal cancer.
  1. Difficulty swallowing
  2. Heart burn
  3. Changes in voice
  4. Abdominal pain
  5. Unexpected bleeding from abdomen

Risk Factors of Esophageal Cancer

  1. Barrett’s Esophagus or family history of esophageal cancer
  2. Tobacco use
  3. Alcohol use in excess
  4. Prolongued acid reflux damage to the esophagus

Listen to Dr. Baiya Krishnadasana and Dr. Sanmiguel Discuss Prevention and Treatment

What is Acid Reflux

The acid from your stomach can burn the lower part of your esophagus, which can change it over time and progress into cancer. 20 percent of Americans suffer from acid reflux explains Dr. Claudia Sanmiguel, a gastroenterologist at Providence, Saint John’s Health Center. “A small percentage of chronic acid reflux can develop into esophageal cancer,” says Dr. Sanmiguel.

According to Dr. Sanmiguel, acid reflux is a combination of symptoms and damage to the lining of the esophagus or food pipe caused by stomach acid and secretions going backward through the esophagus. This can result in a mild to moderate burning sensation almost anywhere along the food pipe including difficulty swallowing food as the esophagus begins to narrow.

Symptoms of acid reflux

There is a link between acid reflux and esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux can change the esophagus, causing it to become narrow.
  1. Burning in the chest area and up through the throat
  2. Secretions and food going back up the esophagus
  3. Trouble swallowing
  4. Persistent cough that doesn’t go away

Risk Factors of Acid Reflux

  1. Men are twice as likely to get it
  2. Obesity
  3. Smoking
  4. Drinking alcohol regularly
  5. Family history of Barrett’s Esophagus

Persistent cough or acid reflux can lead to Barrett’s Esophagus, narrowing of the esophagus, or changes to the lining of the esophagus. People with chronic acid can develop Barrett’s Esophagus and 1 percent of those with Barrett’s Esophagus will develop esophageal cancer.

How to Prevent Acid Reflux?

  1. Try to eat slowly
  2. Don’t over eat
  3. Avoid greasy foods
  4. Don’t eat and go to bed immediately. Wait 3 hours before going to bed after eating.
  5. Loosing weight is the best prevention

What is an Endoscopy?

An endoscopy is a thin, long tube with a camera at the end which can detect tumors, polyps, or scarring along the esophagus. This procedure is done while under anesthesia. Barret’s Esophagus is diagnosed through an endoscopy.

How is Esophageal Cancer Treated?

  1. Surgery- best for early-stage disease
  2. Chemotherapy – early to late stage
  3. Radiation -late stage
  4. Immunotherapy – used with other treatments

What is Robotic Assisted Esophagectomy?

Robotic surgery for esophageal cancer
Robotic surgery allows the surgeon to make smaller, more delicate maneuvers in less space.
Robotic Assisted Esophagectomy is a quicker, more precise, and easier operation than open surgery. Prior to robotic assistance, patients would spend 1-3 weeks in the hospital after an operation due to the size of the incisions and would wait 6-8 weeks to recover.

Now, with robotic assistance, patients stay 5-7 days in the hospital, and within 3-4 weeks can return to normal activities. Robotic-assisted esophagectomy is considered the standard of care because of the improved recovery outcomes. Dr. Baiya Krishnadasan is a proctor for the da Vinci Robotic System, training other doctors on these minimally invasive techniques.


Immunotherapy for Esophageal Cancer

Newer therapies, such as immunotherapy use your own immune system to fight cancer and tend to be very effective in treating advanced esophageal cancer. When combined with surgery, immunotherapy can help to bring cancer into remission. Saint John’s cancer institute has a translational immunotherapy program that provides the clinicians at Saint John’s immediate access to innovative treatments, clinical trials, and experimental drugs.

If you or a loved one are experiencing symptoms of esophageal cancer, or acid reflux, you should see your primary care physician, or gastroenterologist.

About the Author

Eleanor Zeri