Holy Name Medical Center Blog

Burps, Belches, and Hiccups: They're Not Just a Nuisance

Who hasn't suffered from occasional heartburn and acid reflux?

Posted by Ignatios Zairis, MD on April 16, 2018

Who hasn't suffered from occasional heartburn and acid reflux?

But how do you know when these digestive issues are a sign of something more serious?

Dr. Ignatios Zairis, chief of thoracic surgery at Holy Name Medical Center, explains the symptoms of esophageal cancer and how it's one of the fastest-growing diagnoses in the country.

You know the feeling, burning in your chest and throat, accompanied with a sour taste in your mouth that repeats again and again. Frequent gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is not just uncomfortable. For some, it could be an indication of cancer.

Esophageal cancer is one of the fastest growing and deadliest cancers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. During April, we do our best to increase the understanding of this devastating disease with Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month.

The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, not something we typically think about, until something goes wrong. The most serious of which would be esophageal cancer.

So, what are your risk factors? For starters, the chance of getting esophageal cancer increases with age. Less than 15 percent of cases are found in people younger than age 55. Men are also more likely to develop it than women, as are those who are overweight. Use of tobacco in any form can increase your risk, and the same is true for heavy, prolonged alcohol use. Suffering from long-term acid reflux, from the stomach into the esophagus, can also increase your risk.

While we all suffer from occasional indigestion, the longer and more frequent you have reflux, the more likely it is to develop into something more serious, which is why it's so important to get screened.

Traditional screening includes an endoscopy. For this test, we look at the inside of the esophagus through a flexible lighted tube called an endoscope. There is another option on the horizon, in which the patient swallows what looks like a pill. This "pill" is attached to a string and lowered into the esophagus, where it can swab for potentially abnormal cells.

Treatment for esophageal cancer varies depending on the size and location of the tumor. At Holy Name Medical Center, we use a combination of medication and advanced technology. Our robot-assisted surgical techniques are less invasive, and benefits include more positive outcomes and less time spent recovering from the procedure.

This April, take a few minutes to learn the facts about esophageal cancer and become familiar with the symptoms and risk factors. It could be life-saving information for you or someone you love.

At Holy Name Medical Center, Dr. Zairis heads a team of skilled oncologists who have the expertise to assess, diagnose and treat each patient with the most appropriate medical care for the best possible outcome. If you think you may be at risk of esophageal cancer, and would like to get screened, call 201-837-8282.