Esophageal cancer: a growing problem linked to GERD

April 13, 2016 Brian E. Louie, MD

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to shed some light on this uncommon but growing cancer.

In past years, we’ve used the Swedish blog to bring attention to the relationship between heartburn (acid reflux, indigestion and GERD) and the development of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.

Uncommon but growing

Unlike breast cancer and colon cancer, which receive a great deal of attention, esophageal cancer remains in the shadows. In the U.S., esophageal cancer makes up 1 percent of all new cancer cases annually, according to the National Cancer Institute. This year, 16,910 new cases are expected, compared with 232,300 new cases of breast cancer.

But esophageal cancer also has been the fastest-growing type of cancer over the last 30 years. There are two types of esophageal cancer: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The incidence of adenocarcinoma has risen nearly 600 percent. This rise has been driven by a common ailment – chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.

Our patients with esophageal cancer regularly ask about places where they can get more information and support for this relatively rare cancer. We recently identified an excellent website for them: the Esophageal Cancer Education Foundation. I was excited to learn about this group’s services. The foundation offers support, information and a place for patients and their families to share their journeys through cancer treatment and recovery.

A place to learn and share

I think this website can be a crucial resource for patients because cancer treatment can be overwhelming. Although we take the time to educate our patients along the way, they don’t always absorb all of the information we give them under the stress of a major disease.  The foundation’s website can help in these circumstances.

I am hoping that with the help of the Esophageal Cancer Education Foundation, we can develop a more robust support group at Swedish to enhance our Esophageal Cancer Program and provide more information and support for our patients.

If you are struggling with some form of heartburn, specialists at the Swedish Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Swallowing Center can assess your condition and suggest the best approach to treatment. To schedule a consultation, call 206-215-6800.

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