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More Than Just Heartburn?

Kentucky has esophageal cancer rates among the highest in the nation. Each year, more than 13,000 Americans are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, and more than 12,000 die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.

Acid reflux disease is a known risk factor for esophageal cancer, and recent research has shown that an important step in the progression to cancer is a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Little is known about Barrett’s esophagus, except that it seems to result from chronic acid reflux disease and sometimes progresses to cancer.

About acid reflux disease
Acid reflux happens when the liquid in the stomach regurgitates into the esophagus. This liquid usually contains acid, which can inflame and damage the esophagus.

Acid reflux is a chronic condition: once it begins, it is likely to stay. Once treatment begins, it will need to continue indefinitely to keep acid reflux to a minimum.

Symptoms of acid reflux include heartburn, regurgitation, and nausea. There are many causes of acid reflux, and each of these affects different people or even the same person at different times. Complications of acid reflux include ulcers, strictures, Barrett’s esophagus, cough and asthma, inflammation of the throat and larynx, inflammation and infection of the lungs, and fluid buildup in the sinuses and middle ears.

People who have had acid reflux for a long time have a higher risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that occurs when stomach acid goes into your esophagus and makes changes in its lining, sometimes leading to cancer. The condition is much more common in white men and smokers. Obese people also have a high risk. It is more common in people older than 50 years, with most people diagnosed after 60 years of age.

You should see your doctor if you have heartburn three or more times a week, or if you have had heartburn for many years. Doctors can usually treat acid reflux with medicines that cut down the amount of acid in your stomach.

Treatment for esophageal cancer is also expanding, including a new minimally invasive photosensitizing laser technique that is available at UK’s Markey Cancer Center.

Research at UK
University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center researchers have begun an important new study in Kentucky’s Fifth Congressional District to explore the link between acid reflux disease and esophageal cancer. This area was chosen because three counties in the district—Pulaski, Laurel, and Whitley—have esophageal cancer rates among the highest in the nation.

“This important effort combines both a public health initiative to fight one of Kentucky’s most deadly cancers and a research project to expand our knowledge about the causes of esophageal cancer,” says Dr. Nicholas Nickl, the study’s principal investigator and professor of medicine at the UK College of Medicine.

If you have questions or would like to participate in the research study and live in one of these counties, please call (877) 267-0626 or go to

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