FRIDAY, May 18 (HealthDay News) -- Inflammation caused by chronic heartburn may increase the risk of esophageal cancer, a new study finds.
The condition -- formally known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) -- occurs when a muscle at the end of the esophagus doesn't close properly, allowing stomach contents to leak back into the esophagus and irritate it.
GERD can lead to changes in the tissue lining the esophagus, a condition called Barrett's esophagus, often a precursor to esophageal cancer.
In the study, researchers looked at nearly 34,000 GERD patients in Denmark and found that 77 percent had inflammation of the lining of the esophagus, a condition called erosive reflux disease. During an average follow-up time of 7.4 years, 0.11 percent of patients developed esophageal cancer.
The incidence of esophageal cancer among GERD patients with erosive disease was much higher than that of the general population, the team noted.
In contrast, esophageal cancer was diagnosed in only 0.01 percent of GERD patients without erosive disease after 4.5 years of follow-up.
The study appears in the May issue of the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
"Our research shows that damage to the esophageal lining ... is important in the progression from normal cells to cancer, and Barrett's esophagus is likely to be an intermediate step," lead author Dr. Rune Erichsen, of Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, said in a journal news release.
The incidence of esophageal cancer in the United States and Europe has increased dramatically in the past three decades. About 10,000 new cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States.
Although the study identified an association between inflammation caused by GERD and increased incidence of esophageal cancer, it could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more about GERD.
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