What Are the Major Risk Factors for Gastroesophageal Cancer?
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What Are the Major Risk Factors for Gastroesophageal Cancer?

Gastroesophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus and stomach. No one knows what actually causes this type of cancer, but there are several risk factors that will increase the chances of developing the disease. Smoking is high on the list of risk actors, as is alcoholism, and disorders of the stomach and esophagus. Aging also plays a big role in the risk factors of this disease.

What causes gastroesophageal cancer?  

The medical community doesn’t have a clear understanding what exactly causes gastroesophageal cancer, but they do know there are some risk factors which can increase your probability of developing the disease.

Symptoms of gastroesophageal cancer

Persistent coughing

Abdominal pain

Difficulty swallowing

Dark stools

Excessive belching

Weight loss

Nausea

Vomiting

The symptoms of gastroesophageal cancer may just be a bit bothersome in the beginning.  However, this disease will usually be in the advanced stages before cancer is suspected.

Risk factors for gastroesophageal cancer

Being a smoker – Smoking is an extremely high risk factor for this type of cancer.  If you smoke, stop now before it is too late. Smoking to excess can cause gastric irritation which can lead to gastric reflux. If you are a smoker you have a bigger risk for developing this or some other type of cancer than a person who doesn’t smoke.

Being obese – Obesity adds to gastric and esophageal problems. Often belly fat will push on the internal organs where stomach acid splashes up into the esophagus. After significant exposure of the esophagus to the caustic stomach acid, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may result.

Having GERD - Gastroesophageal reflux disease affects the lower esophagus at the sphincter. This disease may be caused by obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia and certain types of medications.

Having Barrett’s esophagus – Barrett’s esophagus is a complication that sometimes happens with severe cases of GERD.

Alcoholism - Drinking alcohol to excess puts you at risk for several types of cancer. They types include cancer of the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, intestines, liver and ovaries.

Being male – Men are nearly two times more likely to get cancer of the esophagus and stomach.

Being elderly – Your chances of getting cancer of the stomach and esophagus goes up as you age. Your risk increases as you reach 65 years of age and older.

Having achalasia – Achalasia is a disorder of the smooth muscle of the esophagus. The nerves that tell the sphincter to open and close during swallowing don’t work correctly. It is difficult to swallow and have the food reach the stomach. This disorder causes an individual to suffer pain, discomfort, and irritation from gastroesophageal reflux.

Can you eat normally without a stomach?

Yes, a person can eat normally without a stomach. It will take time for an individual to eat normally.  The functions of the stomach is mainly being a storage place for the food eaten, and mechanical for mashing up and mixing the food to prepare it for chemical digestion in the small intestine. The function of the stomach is just to make it easier for food to be thoroughly digested in the gut.

The individual will likely have tube feedings until healing takes place. Then the individual will be taught what to eat and how to eat by a registered nutritionist. The individual would eat small amounts of soft foods that are already easily digestible. Each person is an individual; thus, his or her eating habits will progress according to the recommendations of the doctor and nutritionist.

Note to the reader:

This factoid is dedicated to my sister in Christ. She doesn’t want her name used in this article, so I will just call her Jackie.  Jackie is in her late 40s has smoked between ½ and 1 whole pack a day. I learned she was diagnosed with gastroesophageal cancer on Christmas day 2011. She has been taking chemotherapy, and on 3/19/2012 she had to undergo surgery and had part of her esophagus and all of her stomach removed. A pouch was made out of part of her small intestine to serve as a rudimentary stomach. She will be tube fed for at least 3 months. She didn’t drink, and none of the other risk factors fit her other than smoking cigarettes.

While Jackie was in surgery, samples of her lymph nodes were taken to be sent to pathology to be studied for evidence of metastasis. We won’t know if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body until the pathologist examines the lymph nodes and sends a report to her oncologist

 

Sources:

WebMD – I used Webmd.com to look up esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, and for the other disorders in this piece. I could not find information on my friend’s form of cancer (gastroesophageal cancer) so I pieced the information together.

My other source of information comes from my personal knowledge of my friend’s illness and surgery.

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