FRIDAY, May 13, 2022 (HealthDay News) — New evidence suggests esophageal cancer tends to be a “silent killer,” and it’s on the rise among middle-aged Americans.
The incidence of this cancer nearly doubled among people ages 45 to 64, and the prevalence of Barrett’s esophagus — a precancerous condition — increased about 50% in this age group between 2012 and 2019. Food and fluids from your throat into your stomach.
The exact cause of esophageal cancer rise in younger people is not fully known, but higher rates of obesity, unhealthy diets, chronic heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are possible factors, and they all tend to travel together, the study said. Author d. Bashar Qamsiyeh. He’s an assistant professor of medicine and chair of the department of endoscopy at the University of Florida.
Chronic heartburn leads to Barrett’s esophagus, which is characterized by abnormal changes in the cells that line the esophagus.
This increase in esophageal cancer rates in young adults mirrors what has been seen in colon cancer.
“For colon cancer, we used to recommend screening at age 50, and then we saw compelling evidence that the rate was rising in young people, so some groups are now calling for screening at age 45,” Qamsiya said.
It may be time to do the same for esophageal cancer screening if a person has other risk factors, he said. These include alcohol use and smoking.
“If you have reflux and other risk factors for esophageal cancer, consider having an endoscopic screening exam when you undergo a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer,” Qamsya said. Both tests can be done at the same time. There are no guidelines for esophageal cancer screening yet.
The disease is called the silent killer because symptoms often go unnoticed until the cancer is advanced.
For the study, researchers used the electronic health records of nearly 5 million people in Florida. They looked for rates of esophageal cancer and Barrett’s esophagus among people in three age groups: 18 to 44, 45 to 64, and 65 over.
The researchers found consistent rates among the older group. They said the higher rates of esophageal cancer among middle-aged adults are not due to more robust screening. There was no increase in the rate of endoscopy during the study period.
The results are scheduled to be shown at Gastroenterology Week 2022, which will actually take place in San Diego on May 21-24. Results presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until they are published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Going forward, Qamsiya and colleagues plan to revisit the data to distinguish between the two types of esophageal cancer: oesophageal carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
This is key, said Dr. Devika Rao, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New Jersey, because each type has different potential causes and risks to consider.
“Squamous cell carcinomas are more common in Eastern Europe and Asia and are caused by smoking and exposure to tobacco,” said Rao, who is not related to the new study. By contrast, obesity and diet in Barrett’s esophagus are associated with esophageal adenocarcinoma.
“Population studies like this are important in raising awareness among the general public and the medical community,” she said.
“It is alarming to note that cancers that were once considered a disease of the elderly are rapidly becoming lifestyle dependent and affecting younger and younger individuals,” Rao said.
The US National Cancer Institute provides more about esophageal cancer and its symptoms.
SOURCES: Bashar Qamsiya, MD, associate professor, medicine, and chair of the department of endoscopy, University of Florida, Gainesville; Devika Rao, MD, oncologist, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Basking Ridge, NJ; Gastroenterology Week, May 21-24, 2022