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Study: Esophageal cancer more common in whites


Popular antacids can mask symptoms

August 15, 1997
Web posted at: 6:38 p.m. EDT (2238 GMT)

From Reporter Aileen Pincus

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- Popular antacids used by millions to treat heartburn may be masking a much more serious ailment -- cancer of the esophagus, a new study concludes.

Researchers at Philadelphia's Allegheny University of the Health Sciences found that as many as 15 percent of chronic heartburn patients suffer from esophagus cancer, a once rare form of cancer that has become increasingly more common among white people.

If detected in time, pre-cancerous legions can be treated before the disease spreads. But doctors at Allegheny said their study shows that the disease often is detected only after the cancer has set in.

"The frustrating issue is that it's very easy to diagnose and so easy to determine if you're at risk with a simple 10-minute test." said Dr. James Reynolds of Allegheny.

The test, called endoscopy, enables doctors to detect pre-cancerous legions in the esophagus -- the tube through which food passes that connects the throat to the stomach. They then can apply treatments to curb the disease.

The rate of esophageal cancer is increasing by 10 percent a year in Caucasian men, with a small but significant increase in white women. The rate has not increased in other racial groups.

Doctors are now working to get the message out to men who often are reluctant to go to the doctor for medical advice.

"We're interested in the gentlemen particularly, who continue to work and say they're too busy to go the doctors and who pop those medications and antacids over and over again," Reynolds said.

Cancer patient Fred Harm, 73, used to eat antacids like candy, but then he learned he had esophageal cancer. He now urges people to seek medical attention before it's too late.

"I would have come in earlier. I really would have," Harm said.


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