SARASOTA – It’s esophageal cancer awareness month and if you have frequent heartburn, you’re at risk for a condition that can double your chance of developing cancer.


Doctor Blair A. Jobe is one of the nation’s leading specialists treating esophageal cancer and the Director of Esophageal and Lung Institute Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh.


He says heartburn is linked to a disease called Barrett’s Esophagus. “What Barrett’s is, is if you’re dumping acid onto the esophagus it says hey you’re gonna treat me like stomach and pour acid on me, I’m gonna become more like stomach,” says Jobe. “So it changes its configuration.”


That tissue is at higher risk for developing cancer. “Often times patients’ symptoms will go away when they develop that acid resistant tissue,” says Jobe.


Once they start having symptoms like weight loss, chest pain, trouble swallowing, or worsening indigestion, it’s often too late.


“The esophagus is a distensible organ and it’s not until the cancer goes all the way around the tube of the esophagus that the patient has difficulty swallowing,” says Jobe.


If you have frequent heartburn, Jobe encourages getting an endoscopy screening, and if you have Barrett’s Esophagus there are some different treatment options and procedures that can help reduce the risk of progression.


“We now have outpatient procedures that can eliminate the Barrett’s in up to 90% of patients with long–term durability,” says Jobe. “The primary treatment is something called radio–frequency ablation. It’s an electrode that goes down into the esophagus and burns the lining where the disease tissue is and it’s kind of amazing to think, but the body knows to heal with normal tissue.”


Jobe’s biggest piece of advice: if you have chronic heartburn, seek medical help. “Don’t self–medicate, go to see you physician and have a screening endoscopy,” says Jobe.


For more information about these diseases and treatment options, visit refluxprogression.com