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Is acid reflux a symptom of cancer?

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Quick Answer

Acid reflux is not a symptom of cancer, but it is a risk factor for esophageal cancer, as stated by Healthline. Particularly among those who drink alcohol heavily and who smoke, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is one of the main risk factors for this form of cancer.

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Full Answer

Esophageal cancer is in the family of silent cancers because the symptoms are often ignored, or doctors mistake them for signs of other conditions. By the time the doctor diagnoses esophageal cancer, the condition is often deadly. Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma are the two most common cancer types to strike the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma appears in the middle and upper esophagus, but adenocarcinoma, which appears in the lower section, cannot develop until acid reflux causes deformity in the squamous cells, according to Healthline.

One of the leading causes of acid reflux is excess weight, and researchers have identified a large increase in adenocarcinoma that mirrors the growing obesity rate. Repeated instances of acid reflux irritate the lower esophagus over and over. The chronic exposure to acid alters cells in the esophagus lining, leading to Barrett's esophagus, a precancerous condition in which the normal lining of the esophagus is replaced with one like the lining of the intestines. These anomalous cells progress to cancer in between 2 and 15 percent of Barrett's esophagus sufferers, notes Healthline.

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