Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, encompasses a range of cancers. Research suggests a variety of correlational and risk factors have some bearing on the development of cancer; gastric diseases that often interplay. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) appears to be one of those diseases; it may increase the risk of developing stomach cancer in the gastroesophageal junction. Here’s a look at how the two diseases are connected and when when it’s time to talk to your doctor.
While cancer in the stomach body was much more common decades ago, cancer of the gastroesophageal junction is much more common now. The gastroesophageal junction is the area where the cardia--located at the top of the stomach--and the esophagus meet. This makes sense when you consider that the esophagus tends to be impacted by GERD as severely as the stomach does.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a digestive disease that is, at its simplest, a chronic and severe form of heartburn. Heartburn, or GER (gastroesophageal reflux) is a relatively common occurrence for much of the population. GERD does not appear as often, although the National Institute of Health (NIH) reports that nearly 20% of the United States population has GERD.
GERD becomes a problem when the stomach produces too much acid, along with a combination of other factors. That acid essentially leaks out of the seal at the gastroesophageal junction, causing acid reflux (heartburn) when it hits the esophagus. Stomach cancer aside, complications like esophagitis, esophageal stricture, Barrett’s esophagus, and a variety of respiratory problems can develop in response to GERD.
Understanding the Symptoms
Perhaps one of the most frightening aspects of GERD and stomach cancer are the symptoms they share. In addition to bad breath, trouble swallowing, and respiratory problems, GERD can cause abdominal or chest pain, nausea and vomiting, and heartburn or acid reflux. Stomach cancer often takes many years to become symptomatic, but when it does it often causes nausea and vomiting; persistent indigestion, stomach pain, and heartburn; and fatigue, weight loss, bloating, and feelings of fullness.
Additionally, smoking and obesity are shared potential causal factors for both diseases. Beyond correlational factors, many researchers attribute the development of stomach cancer to GERD. It can be difficult to know if you have chronic heartburn due to GERD or stomach cancer.
When to Worry
Ultimately, it is important to talk to your doctor if you’ve experienced a change in the way your body normal feels that is persistent, severe, or sudden. Either disease calls for treatment to prevent some serious possible outcomes (although GERD on its own is rarely fatal).
If you’ve already been diagnosed with GERD and are concerned about developing stomach cancer, be aware of the symptoms of stomach cancer and what GERD feels like for you, so that you can tell the difference when there’s something more going on. If you have developed persistent heartburn and are concerned that it might be stomach cancer, keep track of your symptoms and talk to your doctor as soon as possible.