Reflux and the Occurrence of Cancer

By Hoag

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disorder that is most commonly characterized by heartburn and regurgitation.

GERD occurs when stomach acid, or occasionally bile, leak backwards from the stomach into the food pipe (esophagus), causing irritation of the lining in the esophagus.

Heartburn and reflux are common digestive conditions and non-life threatening, yet, when these symptoms occur frequently and interfere with daily life, they may indicate GERD.

“GERD is a common problem in our communities that can potentially lead to serious medical complications,” states John Lipham, M.D., Program Director for the Hoag Foregut Cancer Program and Chief of the USC Affiliated Programs at Hoag and Associate Professor of Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “What many people don’t realize is that GERD can lead to esophageal cancer.”

If left untreated, GERD may lead to esophagitis—inflammation of the esophagus, esophageal stricture—narrowing of the esophagus, esophageal ulcer—an open sore in the esophagus, or precancerous changes to the esophagus, called Barrett’s esophagus, which can lead to esophageal cancer.

Barrett's esophagus and cancer
About 20 percent of individuals living with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is when the esophagus reacts to the repeated injury from the acidic fluid by changing the type of cells lining it from squamous (normal cells) to columnar (intestinal-type cells). This transformation is believed to be a protective response to make the esophagus more resistant to injury.

Treatment options
Over the counter medications can often treat mild cases of reflux, yet for more serious conditions of GERD, lifestyle changes, prescription drug therapy, adjunctive drug therapy, endoscopic procedures and sometimes minimally invasive surgery are needed to properly treat symptoms.

Hoag Digestive Disease Center​
USC surgeon Dr. Lipham, along with colleagues Rick Selby, M.D., Yuri Genyk, M.D. and Maria Stapfer, M.D. have partnered with Hoag to launch the Hoag-USC Surgical Center for Digestive Diseases, located at Hoag Health Center-Newport Beach, 520 Superior Avenue, Suite 350. This new surgical program will allow Hoag to become Orange County’s primary provider for complex gastrointestinal and cancer surgery. Patients will have access to a highly specialized surgical team who will be working collaboratively with our local GI and medical oncology specialists.

For more information, call 949-764-5350.