What is adenocarcinoma and can it be avoided? If diagnosed with esophageal cancer, can it be treated? We’re answering these questions because so many of you that suffer from GERD tell us you are worried about progression to esophageal cancer. We want you to take a deep breath and relax. You can avoid this condition. However, you will need to make some changes and partner with a GERD expert.
If you have acid reflux, the odds of progressing to esophageal cancer are small. Even those who have advanced to Barrett’s esophagus, the risk of adenocarcinoma is only 0.5% per year, or 10% over 20 years.
If you are one of those who faces an adenocarcinoma diagnosis, you may feel a lot of different things. You may feel fear, for instance, and may feel like you don’t know how to handle the news.
Perhaps you’re worried about the best treatment and how you and your family will afford the bills. You may be unclear on what type of specialist you’ll need to seek. Or maybe you’re still a little unclear on what is adenocarcinoma, and how it got there in the first place.
These are all normal reactions. A cancer diagnosis will not be a death sentence, especially if it diagnosed in the early stages. In fact, recent medical advancements have improved the survival rate for most cancers and we continue to see an increase is the 5-year survival rate for cancer. Since early diagnosis is critical, we suggest that you develop an aggressive surveillance plan with your doctor if you are at risk.
What is Adenocarcinoma?
The first step on your road to recovery is finding out just what is adenocarcinoma. At its core, adenocarcinoma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of one or more of your organs. It can develop in many parts of the body including the esophagus, the colon, the prostate, the pancreas, or the lungs.
To be more specific, it’s a type of cancer caused by increased cell growth of mucus-secreting glands. The increased cell growth can occasionally metastasize, and even form tumors.
While it’s hard to pinpoint adenocarcinoma, the course of treatment will largely depend on the location of cancer in the body. One of the trickiest things about adenocarcinoma is that it tends to spread, and quickly. Again, this highlights the need for an appropriate surveillance plan based on your specific risk factors.
Symptoms of Adenocarcinoma
If you already suffer from acid reflux, it’s tough to detect adenocarcinoma. We understand that this isn’t exactly great news. Especially since acid reflux is already a challenge. But be diligent and know the most common symptoms associated with this condition. If you’ve seen a specialist and are still experiencing symptoms, it’s best to have a biopsy of the esophagus. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner treatment can begin.
Here are just a few of the common symptoms associated with adenocarcinoma.
- More frequent and severe heartburn and indigestion
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
- A chronic cough and/or hoarseness in your voice
- Bleeding in the esophagus
Did you notice anything about those symptoms? Most are quite like many of the symptoms you’re already experiencing with acid reflux. In fact, early stages of esophageal cancer may present none of these typical symptoms, especially for those taking PPIs daily. Hence, if you are one of those at risk, we encourage you to commit to a surveillance plan with your doctor.
Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors
Research is unable to explain why cancer develops in some adults and not in others. However, there are several factors that explain why some adults have an increased risk of adenocarcinoma. Here are a few of the top risk factors and some suggestions on how you can reduce your risk.
GERD symptoms for over ten years
Because adenocarcinoma is slow to develop, the longer you experience the symptoms of acid reflux, the greater your risk. At RefluxMD we suggest a comprehensive approach to managing those symptoms, but if that fails, you should discuss antireflux surgery with a GERD expert.
Excess weight and obesity
The primary driver of GERD symptoms is obesity and excessive weight, as discussed in our article, How excess weight is destroying your lower esophageal sphincter (and driving your GERD symptoms). Research has proven that maintaining a BMI of 24 or less will eliminate or significantly reduce acid reflux symptoms for most adults.
Smoking and alcohol use
Both smoking and alcohol use can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, resulting in acid reflux. If you smoke, quit. If you drink alcohol, stop or reduce the frequency and amount of alcohol consumed.
For those diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, there is an increased risk of esophageal cancer. RF ablation treatment has proven to eliminate Barrett’s esophagus, and with lifestyle and diet changes, reoccurrence of the condition is low.
Poor diet and large meal portions
Eating large portions at mealtime can distend the stomach, pulling the lower esophageal sphincter into the stomach, resulting in higher incidence of reflux. Likewise, eating foods such as fried food, citrus, tomatoes, onions, garlic, etc. can also trigger GERD symptoms. We highly recommend eating small portions and adopting a GERD-friendly diet.
Bile is a known carcinogen when it exists outside of the digestive tract. When bile is refluxed into the esophagus, it can attach to the lining and damage the cells of the esophagus. We encourage anyone diagnosed with bile reflux to discuss antireflux surgery with a GERD expert.
How to Treat Adenocarcinoma
Now that we have discussed adenocarcinoma, let’s talk about the best courses of treatment. Ultimately, this is a decision that you will make with your GERD expert. As you will see, there is not a “one size fits all” rule book when it comes to treatment, and decisions will be based upon the stage of cancer, the location of the cancer, as well as the type and the makeup of the specific cancer cells.
An endoscopy is required to identify any areas of the esophagus that indicate signs of the disease. At that time, a biopsy of several areas of the esophagus is taken for pathology to diagnose any cancerous cells. Adenocarcinoma can only be diagnosed by a pathologist. If a biopsy is positive for adenocarcinoma, we highly recommend that a second reading of the biopsy by an experienced pathologist in this disease.
The most common types of treatment for adenocarcinoma involve surgery. For smaller tumors, your doctor may only recommend surgery. For certain areas of the esophagus near the upper section, your doctor may only recommend chemoradiation.
Your doctor may also suggest a type of radiation therapy and chemotherapy if there is any concern that some cancerous cells remain in the esophagus following surgery. In certain circumstances, chemoradiation may be performed rather than surgery, particularly for those who may not be healthy enough for a surgical procedure.
There is Hope
It is not our intention to scare you or create anxiety. Rather, our goal is to provide information on this condition and assist those who are seeking to design a path to relief and good health.
We believe that the best way to keep you healthy is by keeping you informed. If you are at risk, be sure you speak with your doctor about an appropriate surveillance plan. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above, please consult a specialist today. Your life is precious, and cancer is beatable if diagnosed early and followed by the right treatment plan.
At RefluxMD.com we offer over 300 articles and other great resources to help you along your path to relief. There are even weight loss resources and an app! What’s important is that you live a happy, healthy life, and RefluxMD can help you do just that.
So what is adenocarcinoma? It’s something that you can avoid if you partner with a GERD expert. It’s also something you and your GERD expert can manage if you catch it early. Now, get busy!