Charities promoting earlier diagnosis of oesophageal (gullet) cancer
In a nutshell:
- A healthy digestion system needs strong acid in your stomach
- The lining of your stomach is designed to cope with this acid
- The lining of your oesophagus CANNOT cope with the acid
- If stomach acid comes up past the valve into your oesophagus it can be painful (heartburn)
- Prolonged exposure to the acid can damage the cells of your oesophagus lining
- This can eventually lead to cancer.
The Action Against Heartburn Campaign says:
- Consult your GP if you have:
- persistent heartburn (acid reflux, often at night) - ie for three weeks or more
- persistent indigestion, for three weeks or more
- persistent hiccups or an unpleasant taste in your mouth
- difficulty or pain in swallowing food
- unexplained weight loss
- Do not keep taking over-the-counter indigestion remedies month after month without consulting your GP to investigate underlying causes (which most frequently will be less serious than cancer)
- GPs should consider a review of patients taking prescription remedies for reducing stomach acid after an appropriate period
- Better diagnosis of Barrett's Oesophagus is important
- An endoscopic examination that takes biopsy samples is the main method of detecting Barrett's Oesophagus or oesophageal cancer. This should be available for people of any age with worrying symptoms. More recently, however, a Cytosponge test can indicate Barrett's Oesophagus or other problems.
- Diet, obesity, stress, tobacco and alcohol may contribute to acid reflux, and there are good reasons for us to address these issues even if they do not contribute to us developing cancer.