According to an article recently published in the journal Gut, individuals who are obese and have frequent symptoms of acid reflux have a significantly increased risk of developing esophageal cancer compared with the general population.
The esophagus is the tube through which food and liquid travel from the back of the throat to the stomach. There is a muscular ring at the bottom of the esophagus (the point where the esophagus and stomach meet) that allows material to pass into the stomach. This muscular ring also stops stomach acid from coming back into the esophagus. This muscle, however, does not entirely close in some individuals, resulting in acid coming back into the esophagus; this condition is referred to as acid reflux or gastro-esophageal reflux. It is thought that acid reflux may increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer as stomach acid damages the lining of the esophagus.
Researchers from Australia recently explored the relationship between obesity, acid reflux, and the risk of esophageal cancer. This study included approximately 700 individuals with esophageal cancer who were compared with 1,580 individuals who did not have esophageal cancer.
- Individuals who were obese and had frequent symptoms of acid reflux had more than a 16-fold increase in the risk of developing esophageal cancer compared with individuals who were either obese without symptoms of acid reflux or those with symptoms of acid reflux who were not obese.
- Obesity itself was associated with a significantly increased risk of developing esophageal cancer in all patients, but males and patients under 50 years of age had the greatest risks of esophageal cancer associated with obesity.
- Acid reflux itself was also significantly associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
The researchers concluded: “From a clinical perspective, these data suggest that patients with obesity and frequent symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux are at especially increased risk of [esophageal cancer].”
Patients who are obese and have frequent symptoms of acid reflux may wish to speak with their physician regarding screening for esophageal cancer.
Reference: Whiteman D, Sadeghi S, Pandeya N. Combined effects of obesity, acid reflux and smoking on the risk of adenocarcinomas of the oesophagus. Gut. 2008;57:173-180.
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