September 5th, 2013
The Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN) hopes that Dolly Parton’s recently reported surgery to address reflux disease will raise awareness of the cancer risk posed by the disease.
ECAN is a national non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to saving lives by increasing public awareness about the link between reflux disease (commonly referred to as GERD) and esophageal cancer, one of the fastest increasing cancer diagnoses in the United States.
“Dolly Parton’s efforts to address her reflux disease present an important opportunity to educate the public about a potentially deadly condition most people think of as benign,” said ECAN President and CEO Mindy Mintz Mordecai.
“It is very important that those suffering from heartburn or other GERD symptoms speak to their healthcare provider about their symptoms,” said Dr. Bruce Greenwald, ECAN board chairman and professor of gastroenterology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and Greenebaum Cancer Center. “In some cases, severe disease may be present, which can be detected best by upper endoscopy (EGD), a safe outpatient procedure.”
The media have reported that Parton underwent surgery after her GERD symptoms became severe and she feared her reflux could lead to cancer. A LINX device, which is made up of a circle of tiny magnetic titanium beads, was reportedly implanted around the junction of her stomach and esophagus.
LINX allows food to be swallowed as normal, but blocks the flow of acid back into the esophagus or food pipe. The procedure was cleared by the FDA in March 2012. Studies have shown LINX to be effective in dramatically reducing reflux symptoms, though no studies have shown it to prevent cancer.
In the United States, the type of esophageal cancer caused by reflux disease has increased by more than 400 percent in the past 20 years. That rapid rise means that today one American dies of esophageal cancer every 36 minutes.
ECAN promotes awareness because the disease is usually caught at late stages, when treatment is rarely effective. That’s why it has one of the worst survival rates of any cancer: fewer than one in five esophageal cancer patients will survive five years.
Esophageal cancer and its precursor, Barrett’s Esophagus, have no real symptoms until the cancer reaches advanced stages when treatment is often too late.
ECAN works to inform the public of these major factors that put individuals like Dolly Parton at risk to develop the deadly disease:
You have more than occasional heartburn symptoms.
You have experienced heartburn in the past, but the symptoms have gone away.
You have a family history of esophageal cancer or Barrett’s Esophagus.
You have any pain or difficulty swallowing.
You have a persistent, unexplained cough.
You have been speaking with a hoarse voice over several weeks.
You have a persistent, unexplained sore throat.
You cough or choke when you lie down.
“If the disease is caught when pre-cancerous or even in early cancer stages, new outpatient ablation procedures that zap those cells are actually showing promise as a way to cure patients,” Mordecai added. “That makes early detection of esophageal cancer different from many other cancers. Some studies have shown 97 percent of those undergoing ablation procedures in early stages have no recurrence of disease.”
With the assistance of more than 100 doctors across the nation, ECAN has created a free, downloadable publication that provides important information to help members of the public understand their risk and what they should do about it. “The Guide for Patients” and other useful information about the link between heartburn and cancer can be found at www.ecan.org.