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April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month

April 18, 2018

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month and raising awareness of esophageal cancer is important because it is one of the fastest-growing cancer diagnoses in the US. Nearly 18,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. In the last 30 years, there has been an over 600 percent increase in esophageal adenocarcinoma, which is typically found in the lower region of the esophagus and has been linked to acid reflux.

 “This increasing incidence gives cause for great concern due to the fact that esophageal cancer is often diagnosed in late stages,” said Mark Stern, MD with DeKalb Gastroenterology Associates, LLC. “The American Cancer Society estimates that over 15,000 Americans die from esophageal cancer each year and  survival rate is low when diagnosed in an advanced stage.”

Although esophageal cancer is not entirely preventable, knowing the risk factors and recognizing the symptoms is important and can lead to earlier diagnosis.

Chronic heartburn can lead to Barrett’s esophagus which is a precursor for esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus is seen in about 10% of patients with longstanding heartburn. If you have any of the signs or symptoms listed below, consider talking with your doctor for further evaluation.

Stern advises to be on the lookout for these common symptoms that can lead to or be a sign of esophageal cancer include:

  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in the stool
  • Loss of appetite
  • Chronic Heartburn (GERD)
  • Pain in the throat or back

If you feel that you may be at risk, schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist or primary care doctor. Your doctor will review your health history, symptoms, and perform a physical exam to determine if further testing is necessary.  Only through early detection can we make a difference in patients who develop esophageal cancer.

If you would like to learn more, visit the DeKalb Medical Heartburn Solutions Center, http://www.dekalbmedical.org/home/our-services/gerd