Obesity Cancer Esophageal

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is one of the more common effects of obesity. GERD causes stomach fluid to leak into the esophagus, damaging the delicate inner lining of the esophagus. GERD can cause a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which increases the incidence of esophageal cancer.

For unknown reasons, the incidence of esophagus cancer has risen dramatically over recent years in the United States and Europe. Researchers at the University of Michigan (2007) documented a 350 percent increase in esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of esophagus cancer, since the 1990s. Researchers are trying to determine why this increase has occurred at a time when stomach cancers have decreased.

Barrett’s Esophagus and Esophagus Cancer

Barrett’s esophagus is a condition in which the inner lining of the esophagus is replaced with tissue resembling the intestinal lining. Approximately 1 percent of American adults are affected, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Center (2008). They also report that people with GERD are up to five times more likely to develop Barrett’s esophagus.

Barrett’s esophagus may be accompanied by heartburn, indigestion and nocturnal regurgitation, which causes stomach contents to back up when the patient lies down at night. People with Barrett’s esophagus have a slightly higher likelihood of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.

The Effects of Obesity on Esophagus Cancer

Investigations into the rise of esophageal adenocarcinoma in Europeans and Americans suggest that an increased risk of esophagus cancer may be one of the effects of obesity. What remains to be discovered is an explanation for this apparent correlation. At present, esophageal adenocarcinoma accounts for up to 90 percent of esophageal cancer cases, according to the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center (2010).

Esophageal Cancer and Obesity

According to one theory, excess abdominal fat pushes stomach acids back up into the esophagus, starting the cycle of inflammation that can lead to Barrett’s esophagus. Dietary factors are under investigation.

Exactly why an increased risk of cancer of the esophagus should be one of the effects of obesity remains unknown. Men whose fat is concentrated in the abdominal area appear to be at greatest risk.

Esophageal Cancer Signs

Esophageal cancer signs are listed below. All esophageal cancer signs should be reported to a doctor. Symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Chronic coughing or hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Pain in the throat, behind the breastbone, or between the shoulder blades
  • Vomiting or coughing up blood.

Severe indigestion, heartburn or Barrett’s esophagus are not necessarily esophageal cancer signs. However, taking over-the-counter antacids can mask symptoms of esophagus cancer. Delaying diagnosis and treatment reduces the odds of survival.


Science Daily. (2007). Control acid reflux to help prevent esophageal cancer. Retrieved June 15, 2010 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/07/070708180418.htm.

Mayo Clinic. (2009). Esophageal cancer. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/esophageal-cancer/DS00500.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2008). Barrett’s esophagus. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/barretts/.

University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. (2007). Preventing esophageal cancer. Retrieved June 15, 2010, from http://www.cancer.med.umich.edu/prevention/esophageal_cancer.shtml.