Acid Reflux and Cancer: How They May be Related

Cancer and chronic acid reflux may go hand in hand. Do you suffer from acid reflux, more commonly known as heartburn? This is that burning sensation in your chest or throat that develops after eating certain acidic foods. You’ve likely experienced this discomfort at least a few times in your life; however, if you experience this two or more times in a week, you could be at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

A little background: the esophagus is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach. After eating certain foods, some of your stomach acid can come back up into your esophagus. If this happens to you a lot, it can damage your esophageal tissue, thereby boosting your risk of developing adenocarcinoma cancer there.

Adenocarcinoma is one of the two main types of esophageal cancer, the other being squamous cell.

The link continues to baffle those in the medical community. Doctors still don’t know for sure why acid reflux and cancer are related. Damaged tissue can result in Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition. This condition comes with a higher risk of esophageal cancer; however, most people who have this condition won’t develop esophageal cancer.

On the other hand, those suffering from both GERD and Barrett’s esophagus at once are at an increased risk of having esophageal cancer than those who only suffer from GERD.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Difficulty swallowing remains the single most common symptom, also known as dysphasia. As the cancer grows, it obstructs more of the esophagus, leading to painful swallowing. Many people also feel pain when eating, as the chunks of food that pass through the esophagus hit the tumor on the way down.

As a result of difficulty swallowing, many people lose weight unintentionally. That’s because they don’t feel like eating when it’s so painful, but it also has to do with a decrease in appetite due to the cancer.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Hoarse or sore throat
  • Chronic cough
  • Bleeding in the esophagus
  • Increased indigestion or heartburn

What makes esophageal cancer so deadly?

What makes esophageal cancer so deadly and dangerous is that symptoms don’t usually crop up until the later stages of the disease. Check with your doctor about esophageal cancer screening to set your mind at ease, especially if you suffer from chronic heartburn.

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors for esophageal cancer, including:

  • Gender: Men are three times more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer than females.
  • Age: Esophageal cancer is more common in those over 55.
  • Tobacco: Cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco all increase the risk.
  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol increases your risk, particularly if you pair it with tobacco.
  • Obesity: If you are extremely overweight, you are at a higher risk due to the higher incidence of chronic acid reflux.
  • Diet: Eat more fruits and vegetables to lower your risk and avoid eating processed meats, which can elevate your risk. Also, don’t overeat, as this seems to be yet another factor.
  • Radiation: If you have undergone previous radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen, your risk is increased.


When you first see your doctor, you will get a physical exam and go over your medical history. If esophageal cancer is suspected, you will undergo a variety of tests, including an endoscopy and biopsy. Another test is a barium swallow test that involves drinking a chalky liquid to line your esophagus in preparation for an x-ray. If cancerous tissue is detected, your doctor will order a CT scan to determine if the cancer has spread.

Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are all possible treatments.


There are some steps you can take to lessen your risk of esophageal cancer, mainly by controlling your acid reflux. You can achieve this through:

  • Losing weight
  • Staying upright after eating
  • Sleeping propped up
  • Taking antacids
  • Quitting smoking
  • Drinking in moderation
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables

Do you have Barrett’s esophagus and GERD? Realize that you are at a higher risk for developing esophageal cancer. Be sure to visit your doctor for regular checkups, reporting any suspicious symptoms.

For the most focused treatment, it’s imperative to see a specialist skilled in detecting a link between cancer and chronic acid reflux. Early detection of esophageal cancer is key. The quicker you catch the cancer, the better likelihood of treatment and survival. Only routine checks by your doctor can detect this type of cancer in its earliest stages.
Call 681-342-3690 for an appointment with a gastroenterology specialist today.

Please note, the information provided throughout this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content, including text, graphics, images, and video, on or available through this website is for general information purposes only. If you are experiencing related symptoms, please visit your doctor or call 9-1-1 in an emergency.