Vitality

Constant Heartburn Could Be A Sign Of Stomach, Esophageal Cancer

Constant heartburn
Heartburn that goes untreated can increase risk for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and certain cancers. And a new campaign in the UK is hoping to change that. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Are you clear about the effects of untreated heartburn? A new campaign from Public Health England (PHE) wants to make sure, as new studies support the idea it could be symptomatic of stomach and esophageal cancer.

These two types of cancer are the fifth most common in England; BBC News reported around 12,900 people are diagnosed (and an estimated 10,0000 die) with the disease each year. So PHE launched “Be Clear On Cancer,” a campaign that focuses on how to spot the respective symptoms — one of which is persistent heartburn. People in both the UK and U.S. experience heartburn after a large meal. But three weeks of persistent heartburn or difficult swallowing are cause for concern. Additional signs include indigestion, losing weight, frequent burping, feeling full quickly after eating, nausea, vomiting, otherwise stomach pain, and discomfort.

Michael Griffin, a professor of surgery at the Northern oesophago-gastric unit, told the BBC people are reluctant to bring these symptoms to their doctor for fear of wasting their doctor’s time. But he wants to assure the public this will not be the case. Patients will either get reassurance it isn’t cancer, “or if it is, you will have a better chance of successful treatment.”

This is where the campaign comes in. Some research shows those living in the UK decide to get their symptoms checked out after seeing a cancer awareness campaign. This is useful insight into the British psyche, Sara Hiom, director of early diagnosis at Cancer Research UK, told BBC.

"International comparisons have already shown us that the British public are far more worried about being a burden on the health system or wasting the doctor's time than in other developed countries,” she said. What’s more is these findings could lead to new ways to encourage people with worrying symptoms.

When someone has something like heartburn, the contents of their stomach (digestive fluid) leak out and flow back into their esophagus. The National Institutes of Health reported this is a result of the entrance to the stomach not closing properly. If this entrance, called the sphincter, stretches a lot after something like a large meal, it temporarily loosens. And if leaking digestive fluid remains on the lining of the esophagus, it becomes inflamed.

This inflammation is known as GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease. Heartburn, regurgitation, and trouble swallowing are hallmark signs of this condition. GERD also accounts for the feeling of constant fullness, nausea, and vomiting. It’s at this point experts find the risk of cancer may increase.

Heartburn isn’t fun no matter which way you look at it. Brush up on the natural ways to keep burn at bay — and keep an eye on constant or chronic symptoms. 

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