Heartburn Raises Odds for Esophageal, Larynx Cancers

It’s possible, Abnet said, that similar mechanisms could also contribute to squamous cell carcinoma in the esophagus and to laryngeal cancer.

Whether treating GERD cuts those cancer risks “remains an open question,” he said.

In the United States, he noted, the major drivers of the cancers studied here are smoking and heavy drinking.

“So avoiding those exposures is the most important preventive measure,” Abnet said.

The findings are based on more than 490,600 U.S. adults who were between the ages of 50 and 71 at the outset. Nearly one-quarter had GERD.

Over about 16 years, more than 900 participants were diagnosed with esophageal adenocarcinoma, while about 300 developed the squamous cell form. Meanwhile, 876 people were diagnosed with laryngeal cancer.

On average, Abnet’s team found, people with GERD were about twice as likely to develop any of the three cancers as people without GERD. That was after accounting for smoking, drinking habits and body weight.

Peter Campbell, scientific director of epidemiology research at the American Cancer Society, called the study “solid.”

There are no standard screening tests for the cancers. But Campbell said people with GERD can be aware of the potential symptoms, which include: trouble swallowing, chest pain, hoarseness or voice changes, chronic cough and weight loss.

“It’s important to note that having those signs or symptoms doesn’t necessarily mean a person has cancer at one of these organ sites,” Campbell stressed.

But, he said, anyone with GERD who notices those symptoms should talk to their doctor.

Similarly, Abnet said people with GERD symptoms should ask their doctor about lifestyle changes and/or medications that could help.

The lifestyle tactics for managing GERD include eating a healthy diet, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol, and shedding excess weight.

As it happens, Abnet noted, those same measures can help curb the risks of many different types of cancer.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has an overview of GERD.

SOURCES: Christian Abnet, PhD, MPH, division of cancer epidemiology and genetics, U.S. National Cancer Institute, Rockville, Md.; Peter Campbell, PhD, scientific director, epidemiology research, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; Cancer, Feb. 22, 2021, online

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