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.
- If you suffer from persistent heartburn, consult your doctor.
- Your doctor may refer you for an endoscopy where taking the Acid Test could show whether you suffer from Barrett's Oesophagus, or, much more unusually, oesophageal cancer.
- For the Department of Health's Be Clear on Cancer campaign click here
- Heartburn (also known as acid reflux) can do damage to the cells of your gullet (oesophagus), the tube linking your throat and your stomach, if it persists for a long period.
Heartburn often occurs at night.
- This may lead on to a condition known as Barrett's Oesophagus
- Having Barrett's Oesophagus may give a risk of eventually developing adenocarcinoma, which accounts for 70% of the oesophageal cancer cases in the UK.
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 week after week without seeing 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 is the only sure way of detecting Barrett's Oesophagus or oesophageal cancer. This should be available for people of any age with worrying symptoms
- 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.
Download the Action Against Heartburn document "Persistent Heartburn, Barrett's Oesophagus and Oesophageal Cancer"
Download a copy of 'Heartburn, Barrett's oesophagus and Cancer: Implications for Primary Care' by Professor Tony Watson and Dr John Galloway - editorial in British Journal of General Practice, March 2014.