Know the risks of persistent heartburn

PUBLISHED: 09:04 21 March 2019 | UPDATED: 09:04 21 March 2019

If your heartburn symptoms persist, check with your doctor fast as it could be a sign of cancer

If your heartburn symptoms persist, check with your doctor fast as it could be a sign of cancer


A Bromley campaign group is working to raise awareness of the possible dangers of heartburn.

Founder of Action Against Heartburn Alan Moss.Founder of Action Against Heartburn Alan Moss.

In the worst cases, they say it can eventually lead to diagnoses of cancer.

Action Against Heartburn, as one of the charities which promote early diagnosis of oesophageal and gastric cancer, says local people need to act before it is too late

Chairman Alan Moss, from Orpington, says using the ABC system can help, which stands for Acid reflux can lead to Barrett’s oesophagus that can sometimes lead to Cancer.

With support from 35 pharmacies in the Bromley and Dartford area, he is backing the fight against cancer.

He told us: “I want to draw attention to the risks of putting up with persistent heartburn rather than going to their GP to discuss the underlying causes of acid reflux, the cause of heartburn.”

He added: “Fortunately for most people heartburn is just a temporary or occasional problem, maybe after a weekend of celebrations and rich foods.

“However, it’s not hard to imagine that persistent indigestion might be doing some damage to delicate tissues – the very word heartburn conjures up images of acid eating away at healthy structures.

“But, perhaps because indigestion is such a universal experience that we all get at times, and the pharmacies are full of remedies that we can buy over the counter, many of us just put up with it, even when it does persist for week after week.

“The heartburn remedies like Gaviscon or Nexium that you can buy over the counter are very good – but taking them for too long without seeing your GP can mask underlying problems.”

Jason Dunn, a gastroenterologist at St Thomas’ hospital who deals with many of the cases referred from this area, backs Mr Moss.

He said: “AAH is a registered charity and does some great work for raising awareness of Barrett’s oesophagus.”

He added: “I am often seeing men aged 50 or over in my clinic who turn out to have oesophageal (or gullet) cancer.

“If we catch it at an early stage we can treat it with a good chance of a cure, but unfortunately it is often too late because they have been suffering heartburn or other digestive problems for months or perhaps years, and have not gone to their GP.

“Heartburn may be a sign that changes are occurring in the lining of the gullet and stomach that could lead to cancer.

“This disease, called Barrett’s oesophagus, is a precursor condition. It is not cancer, but it carries an increased risk of adenocarcinoma. The United Kingdom is reported as having the highest incidence in the world for this type of cancer. Fortunately we can monitor people with Barrett’s and can treat the condition with HALO radiofrequency ablation, an endoscopic treatment that is carried out as a day case, so that there is a good chance of cancer never occurring.”

Mr Moss said: “Persistent heartburn for two or three weeks shouldn’t be ignored.

“It’s a warning sign that needs investigation. A variety of tests can be done and research is developing new ones which are simpler and quicker.

“The most effective investigation is an endoscopy where a camera is passed down through the gullet into the stomach, giving clear pictures of the lining of the upper part of the gut, and allowing biopsies to be taken to check for abnormalities in the cells. OGDs don’t take very long and can be done with a sedative so that there is no discomfort.”

And cytosponge, developed by the MRC Cancer Cell Unit in Cambridge, is a sponge in a capsule on a string which is swallowed, left until the capsule dissolves and the sponge recovered by pulling the string. Vital tests can then be carried out to diagnose possible Barrett’s oesophagus.

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