Did you know that April is designated as Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month? This public health awareness event is a part of a growing nationwide movement to attract more attention to a deadly disease that is far too often ignored. Throughout the month, families which have been affected by esophageal cancer will be collaborating with the Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN) to help raise public awareness.
Esophageal cancer has one of the fastest rates of cancer diagnoses in the country – it is up by more than 400 percent in the last two decades. What’s more, the prognosis for this esophageal cancer is often quite poor – less than one in five who are diagnosed will survive the first five years. Most cases of esophageal cancer in the U.S. are the result of persistent heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). While it may be surprising to think that heartburn could cause a deadly disease like this, someone succumbs to esophageal cancer every 36 minutes.
The Facts on Esophageal Cancer
Here are some of the basic facts that are worth noting when it comes to esophageal cancer:
- Heartburn can lead to cancer. In fact, 90 percent of the esophageal cancer cases in the United States were caused by acid reflux or heartburn.
- Esophageal is nearly four times more common in men than women.
- The risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age – nearly 8 out of 10 cases were diagnosed in people between the ages of 55 and 85.
- Esophageal cancer is often referred to as a silent killer, because many people don’t realize the symptoms of GERD (cough, hoarse voice, chest pain, etc.) are worth noting to their doctor. If you have GERD, it may be worth getting screened for esophageal cancer.
- The acid reflux caused by GERD can actually produce cellular alterations in the lining of the esophagus which can lead to the development of Barrett’s Esophagus (a pre-cancerous condition). This results in a 125-fold increase in a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- The survival rate for esophageal cancer is quite low due to the fact that it is not often diagnosed until a more advanced stage. However, the latest treatment techniques can now produce cure rates of 98 percent when detected early.
The Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN)
Only four years ago, there was no national advocacy organization dedicated to combating esophageal cancer. This is when the Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN) was formed in order to help more individuals and families tackle this devastating form of cancer. In fact, they successfully petitioned the National Cancer Institute to have esophageal cancer included in the Cancer Genome Atlas Project.
ECAN has also set up a public partnership with the estate of the legendary actor, Humphrey Bogart. Humphrey passed away due to esophageal cancer in 1957. In recent years, Stephen Bogart, Humphrey’s son, and actress Lauren Bacall have been working to help raise public awareness of this deadly disease. They have actually created a number of public service announcements and trailers which have been shown nationally on T.V. and in theaters.
Reach Out Kits for Esophageal Cancer
Throughout Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, ECAN will be providing these “Reach Out Kits” to patients, advocates, and health care providers in order to provide a better understanding of the association between GERD and cancer. For anyone who is interested in one of these kits, they can find out more by visiting the Esophageal Cancer Action Network website.