Esophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop into the esophagus, the muscle tube that feeds from the oral cavity to the stomach.
He usually appears in the esophageal lining tissue and then extends into the outer layers before he starts to spread to other organs. It is almost non-manifest at an early stage. But as the tumor grows, swallowing problems may occur.
Around eighteen thousand new cases of esophageal cancer occur every year, with 15,000 deaths. (In the Czech Republic, about 500 people die in a year, 90% of them die in a year – ed. Red.) The main risk factors are smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and esophageal reflux, in which gastric juices return to the esophagus, burn the inner layer and cause inflammations that can lead to cancer. If you avoid tobacco and alcohol (even moderate consumption seems to increase risk), the most important thing you can do to prevent esophageal cancer is to eliminate reflux disease – which can be achieved by adjusting your diet.
Reflux Disease and Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal Reflux is one of the most common gastrointestinal ailments. It usually manifests as heartburn and the return of undigested food up the esophagus, leaving an acidic mouth feel. Reflux disease is the reason for millions of visits to the doctor or hospitalization every year and shows the highest annual cost of all gastrointestinal diseases in the US. Chronic inflammation caused by oesophageal reflux may lead to the so-called Barett’s esophagus, a pre-recurrent state where changes in the lining of the esophagus occur. In order to prevent adenocarcinoma, the most common type of esophageal tumor in the United States, it is necessary to prevent this – which is to prevent reflux disease in the first place.
That’s a challenging task. Over the last thirty years, the incidence of esophageal cancer has increased sixfold in Americans – a significant increase over breast or prostate cancer – and is probably due to the spread of reflux disease. In the US, roughly a quarter of people (28%) have heartburn or gastrointestinal problems at least once a week, while it is only 5% in Asia. We conclude that dietary factors can play a key role in this disease.
For the past twenty years, some forty-five studies have explored the link between eating patterns, Barette’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer. Consumption of meat and foods high in fat was most often associated with the onset of cancer. Interestingly, different types of meat are related to the occurrence of tumors in different parts of the body. Red meat is strongly associated with esophageal cancer as such, whereas poultry is more likely to have tumors below, on the border of esophagus and stomach.
How does this happen? By consuming fat within five minutes, your stomach clamp – works like a flap to keep food inside your stomach – relaxes, allowing acids to enter the esophagus. For example, in one study, volunteers who ate high-fat foods (sausage, egg and cheese sandwiches) experienced a more frequent return of gastric juice to those who had less fat (pancakes). In part, this effect can be attributed to the release of the hormone cholecystokinin, which is triggered by meat and eggs and can also release the sphincter. This explains why people who eat meat are twice as likely to have oesophageal inflammation as reflux than vegetarians.
Aside from the risk of cancer, oesophageal reflux may cause pain, bleeding, and narrowing of the scar tissue of the esophagus, which in turn causes swallowing problems. Billions of dollars are spent on drugs that relieve heartburn and reflux by reducing gastric juice production, but these drugs can contribute to poor nutrition and increase the risk of pneumonia, intestinal infections, and bone fragility. Therefore, it seems that a better strategy to maintain gastric juices in their place would be to minimize food intake that allows acids to move backwards.
But we can only protect ourselves by reducing harmful food intake. By focusing on a plant diet rich in oxidants, the risk of esophageal cancer can be halved. The most beneficial foods that protect us from esophageal and stomach tumors are red, orange and dark green kinds of leafy vegetables, berries, apples and citrus, but all unprocessed vegetable products are beneficial to their fiber content.