No increased risk of esophageal cancer for individuals with chronic reflux.

No increased risk of esophageal cancer for individuals with chronic reflux.

Acid Reflux Doesn’t Increase Cancer Risk: A Reassuring Swedish Study

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A Ray of Hope for Chronic Acid Reflux Sufferers

FRIDAY, Sept 15, 2023 – In a refreshing twist, a large Swedish study has uncovered that individuals with chronic acid reflux, medically known as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), do not face a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer, contrary to past beliefs.

Lead researcher, Dr. Dag Holmberg, a postdoctoral researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, expressed, “Previous studies have shown that individuals with repeated symptoms of acid reflux – such as heartburn and/or regurgitation – have a propensity to develop esophageal cancer. We found that these individuals had the same risk of cancer as the general population. The results were clear virtually across the board. There was no association.”

A Pioneering Investigation Debunks the Conventional Wisdom

The link between chronic acid reflux and an elevated risk of esophageal cancer has long been established due to the potential harm inflicted on the esophageal lining. With time, this process, called esophagitis, can lead to tissue acid-resistance and a higher likelihood of esophageal cancer.

However, Dr. Holmberg and his team discovered that the majority of patients suffering from acid reflux have a typical esophageal lining without any signs of injury. This prompted them to question the presumed correlation between GERD patients and an increased cancer risk.

To gain deeper insights, the investigators analyzed national health registry information from two patient groups in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. Both groups had sought treatment for reflux disease between 1987 and 2019, either in a hospital or outpatient setting.

The first group comprised over 285,000 individuals with reflux disease, yet no evidence of esophagitis upon endoscopic examination. The second group included approximately 200,000 patients with documented esophageal injury.

These patient cohorts were monitored for up to 31 years, with esophageal cancer cases compared to rates in the general population over the same period.

Some Risk for a Few, but a Ray of Hope for Many

The study unveiled a potential increased risk of esophageal cancer among the group with esophageal injuries resulting from GERD. However, no overall indication of an elevated risk was observed among GERD patients with no esophageal injury, except for a “very moderate” uptick in women’s risk.

Dr. Holmberg maintains that this moderate risk increase is inconsequential since the incidence of esophageal cancer in women is extremely low, with approximately 85% of all tumors occurring in men. As a result, further monitoring is unwarranted.

The reassuring takeaway from this landmark study is that patients with acid reflux and a normal upper endoscopy can breathe a sigh of relief. Their risk of esophageal cancer is not heightened.

These findings provide valuable knowledge to the majority of GERD patients who do not experience esophageal injury. Connie Diekman, St. Louis-based food and nutrition consultant and former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, agrees, stating that this could potentially eliminate the need for routine endoscopies for GERD patients once initial evaluations confirm an intact esophagus.

Diekman emphasizes the importance of patients discussing their risks with healthcare providers and utilizing this information to make informed decisions about their healthcare.

The Final Word

The groundbreaking Swedish study challenges conventional wisdom and brings hope and relief to the millions of people grappling with chronic acid reflux. Those who have lived in fear of potential cancer risk can now embrace the fact that their concerns are likely misplaced.

Published in BMJ on September 13, 2023, this study not only provides a sense of calm for GERD patients but also offers cost-saving benefits, alleviating the burden of frequent screenings for those without esophageal injuries. Ultimately, maintaining open communication with healthcare professionals will ensure individualized care and informed decision-making.

Additional information:

Learn more about links between GERD and cancer at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.