Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Persistent Acid Reflux and Cancer

Magazine article Nutrition Health Review

Persistent Acid Reflux and Cancer

Article excerpt

New research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center underscores the importance of preventing recurring acid reflux. The studies have also uncovered clues on how typical acid reflux can turn potentially cancerous.

People with a complication of acid reflux disease called Barrett's esophagus have altered cells in the esophagus. These cells contain shortened telomeres, the ending sequences in DNA strands. Shortened sequences seem to allow other cells more prone to cancer to take over.

Dr. Rhonda Souza, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at the university, explains:

"The research supports why it is important to prevent reflux, because the more reflux you have and the longer you have it, the more it might predispose you to getting Barrett's esophagus. So you want to suppress that reflux."

Heartburn occurs when acid splashes back up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. Over time, the persistent acid bath can cause normal epithelial cells in the esophagus to change into tougher, more acid-resistant cells of the type found in the stomach and intestine, explained Dr. Stuart Spechler, Professor of Internal Medicine and senior author of the paper.

"Unfortunately, those acid-resistant cells are also more prone to cancer," he said.

Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, a cancer that is commonly associated with Barrett's esophagus, is the most rapidly rising cancer in the United States; it has shown a sixfold increase in cases during the past 30 years, according to the National Cancer Institute. Understanding how and why the cells change in some cases and not others has been a major challenge for investigators.

Researchers compared telomere length and telomerase activity in biopsy specimens from 38 patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and from 16 control patients. This new line of research suggests that the continuous acid bath affecting the esophageal cells causes them to divide more frequently in order to regenerate the damaged lining. However, each time the cells divide, the telomeres at the end of DNA become shorter. When they become too short, the aging cell can no longer divide. …

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