Why do we need to raise awareness about esophageal cancer?
It’s very often diagnosed at a late stage because patients don’t present [symptoms] until they start to have difficulty swallowing — and that’s a late symptom of esophageal cancer.
Now, in terms of late presentation, there are those who take medications over the counter — and that’s potentially an issue. Individuals are able to treat their heartburn without a prescription. That may, at times, have them not present early on with symptoms. Since they can self-medicate, that could potentially shift the timing of diagnosis to somewhat later.
Do you believe that’s a concern?
Part of it is understanding what symptoms are related to reflux disease, and making people realize if their reflux disease doesn’t go away with a short course of over-the-counter medications to control acid production, they should visit their physician for evaluation. Not to say they have esophageal cancer, but it’s at least a symptom that we can recognize, to try to get someone to the doctor at a stage before they develop cancer.
Any words of advice for people concerned about reflux disease leading to esophageal cancer?
I always say to patients, above all else, have a sense of your own body. It’s not normal to feel food getting caught. If you all of a sudden start to feel that, you should visit a physician.
There are also so many advances in our ability to diagnose and treat these diseases at early stages. When I speak with patients who have late-stage esophageal cancer, very often they had symptoms for a while, and either they didn’t get to a physician to discuss them or they ignored them. The other common thing is they’re frightened. My mantra is “do not die of fear.”
Learn more about reflux disease and digestive health.