Lack of GERD Symptoms May Increase Cancer Risk

Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer are more common in GERD patients lacking severe symptoms, a study finds.

A study in the current issue of Archives of Surgery suggests that GERD patients receiving medical treatment for their condition are at greater risk of developing esophageal cancer if they lack severe symptoms than if they have them.

Those with severe symptoms tend to be screened for Barrett’s esophagus, a change in the cells lining the esophagus due to repeated exposure to stomach acid, which can develop into esophageal cancer. Meanwhile, those with at most minimal symptoms tend not to be screened for it and only become aware that something is awry when the cancer proceeds and they experience an obstruction.

The study looked at 769 GERD patients undergoing their first endoscopy, in which a camera is inserted into the esophagus and stomach to look for tissue changes. The endoscopies revealed that 122 of the patients, or 15.9%, had either Barrett’s esophagus or adenocarcinoma, a common form of esophageal cancer. Of the patients in the study who were being treated with proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), those who had no severe symptoms of GERD were 61% more likely to have Barrett’s esophagus or adenocarcinoma than those who had severe GERD symptoms.

The study’s authors point out that their findings indicate that GERD patients who lack severe symptoms would be likely to benefit from screening for Barrett’s esophagus given that their lack of symptoms may mask the progression of dangerous conditions.

Around the Web

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptom Severity, Proton Pump Inhibitor Use, and Esophageal Carcinogenesis (Abstract) [Archives of Surgery]