Thursday, July 29, 2021

Frequent heartburn, acid reflux could lead to esophageal cancer, which is rapidly on the rise

Increased incidences of acid reflux may be linked to a spike in esophageal cancer.

At least that's the conclusion of a story by Stephen Perrine in an old AARP Bulletin I just unearthed from a storage box in my laundry room closet stuffed between two sheets of paper with other medical advice that I neglected to heed. 

Many people "don't realize that common heartburn symptoms can both lead to and mask something more serious," reads the story and a caption accompanying the article.

"Esophageal adenocarcinoma — cancer of the lining of the soft tube that delivers food and drink from the mouth to the stomach," Perrine's piece says, "has increased sevenfold since the early 1970s," quoting Dr. Paul Oberstein, director of the gastrointestinal oncology program at New York University Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center in Manhattan.

The cancer's increase "has paralleled the rise of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the medical name for when you have bouts of acid reflux two or more times per week."

According to David Odell, lead investigator on a study of esophageal cancer funded by the American Cancer Society, thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, "it's one of the fastest-growing issues we have in the population," the AARP story reports.

Chronic heartburn, it says, "can sometimes lead to a disorder called Barrett's esophagus, in which the cells of the esophagus…being to change into glandular cells like those of the stomach." Five percent of GERD patients "will develop Barrett's, and 10 percent of those will go on to develop cancer."

The story also notes that one in every five Americans experience heartburn or acid reflux on a weekly basis, with 40 percent dealing with it at least once a month.

Estimates by the American Cancer Society are that roughly 16,000 Americans die of esophageal cancer annually. Approximately four times as many men get the disease as women, with 85 percent of the cancers being found in people 55 or older.

The main causes of GERD are obesity, a tendency toward large meals, and a high-stress lifestyle, Perrine's story indicates.

More information on links between drugs and other treatments to additional disease is available in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Article cites 6 ways of dealing with disease

Yellowed Time magazine piece shows how a patient may improve your breast-cancer treatment

Some perceptions hold up a long time.

Time magazine, under the rubric "Frontiers of Medicine," ran a story a few years back that's clearly still valid today. The piece was headlined "6 surprising things that may improve breast-cancer treatment."

Because I thought it important, I've retained a yellowed copy all this time — even though I didn't consider any of the suggestions truly "surprising" even back then.

The intro of the story by Alexandra Sifferlin says that "being diagnosed with breast cancer can make a person feel powerless but there are some things women can do to potentially improve how they feel throughout the process."

It then lists "strategies recommended by experts — and others that are still being explored — that may enhance the effectiveness and reduce the side effects of treatment."

The half dozen areas it addresses are physical activity, healthy eating, yoga, sleep, treatment timing and meditation.

Dr. Ann Partridge
Exercise, which seems to be a recommended medical treatment for virtually every disease, gets the first slot.

Sifferlin quotes Dr. Ann Partridge, a prof of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-founder and director of the Program for Young Women with Breast Cancer at Dana-Faber Cancer Institute.

Exercise is "one of the best things women can do for themselves," the doctor contends.

She suggests that walking three to five times a week "can make a huge difference in how you feel during treatment."

It's also good for the brain, she notes. "A study of 87 breast-cancer survivors found that those who did 12 weeks of exercise scored better on some cognitive tests than women who didn't exercise."

Sifferlin's second most important idea, in my opinion, comes in the category of yoga, one of the most studied of complementary or integrative therapies for breast cancer.

"A steady practice," her Time article says, "may even lessen the side effects of treatment."

Sifferlin cites one study that finds "doing yoga at least twice a week improved sleep and reduced daytime drowsiness in women with breast cancer" and another that indicates "women who practiced yoga had less fatigue and fewer markers of inflammation than those who didn't."

High on the Time suggestion scale is the notion of sticking with a healthy, "preventive medicine" diet, one "filled with lots of fruits and vegetables [that] contain fiber and anti-oxidants."

Sifferlin details a study that shows women who ate three servings of fruit a day as teenagers "had a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer later on than those who ate less."

A big red flag, she indicates, is overdoing carbs or comfort foods.

Another danger, Sifferlin writes, is from too little sleep.

The writer describes yet another study, one whose findings show "women who slept less than five hours a night on average before they were diagnosed with breast cancer were nearly 1.5 times as likely to die from the disease as women who reported sleeping seven to eight hours a night."

In a fifth category, the timing of treatments, the Time article extracts from a Weizmann Institute of Science study information that "evidence in mice" points to the notion that "cancer treatment might be more effective in the evening" — and suggests that "shifting care a few hours may be a simple way to make medications more powerful."

Finally, in regard to meditation, Sifferlin's piece again quotes Partridge that "when you are emotionally not doing well, you feel things more physically" — and that when "tired, stressed or upset, patients may perceive their cancer symptoms as worse."

The doctor looked at a review of research, Time reports, and saw that "meditation is effective at treating symptoms of mood disorders [such as anxiety and depression] that are common among with with a recent breast-cancer diagnosis."

More information about the disease, research about it, and its treatment can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book that I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.