The gullet is a 26cm tube which runs between the mouth and the stomach. Cancer can either develop at the top near the throat (squamous cell cancer), or at the bottom, near the stomach (adenocarcinoma cancer).
Around 40 years ago the most common form of gullet cancer was squamous, thought to be caused by smoking and drinking. Today the most common form of gullet cancer is adenocarcinoma – thought to be caused by obesity.
In the UK this form of cancer has risen ten-fold in prevalence since the ’60s. Sadly it has a very poor survival rate, with eight out of ten patients dying within five years.
A team of scientists from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in the U.S. have recently linked this form of cancer with heartburn. They took tissue samples from patients and found a pattern of changes to DNA structures they’d never seen before. They discovered that these DNA changes may have been caused by heartburn, otherwise known as gastric reflux.
Heartburn occurs when the sphincter muscle, which keeps the stomach acid away from the gullet, stops working properly. Obesity is known to reduce the efficiency of the sphincter, which causes acid damage to the lining in the gullet and sometimes leads to cancer.
Dr Adam Bass who took part in the investigation said: “Identifying the mutated genes within these tumours will help us understand the underlying biology. It also presents us with a slate of known genetic abnormalities that can some day be used to diagnose the disease at an early stage, classify tumours by the particular mutations, and ultimately develop treatment geared to precisely those mutations.”
There are thought to be around 8,500 new cases of gullet cancer recorded in the UK every year.
Consulting a qualified nutritionist will help you to keep to a healthy, balanced diet. While it may not be possible to ward off all disease with diet alone, eating well can dramatically improve your health and emotional wellness. To find out how nutrition can help with cancer rehabilitation, please visit our Cancer page.
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