People who both smoke and drink alcohol, compared to those who only smoke or drink, face a nearly double risk of developing cancer in the esophagus, according to a new study.
Although doctors have long warned patients that exposure to alcohol and tobacco increase the risk for this type of cancer, the study is the first meta-analysis to look at the interaction between alcohol and tobacco and in the risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. The research was published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology.
“Our study suggests that not only do alcohol and tobacco play an important role in the development of esophageal cancer, the combination of their use markedly increases their potency as carcinogens,” said Dr. Anoop Prabhu, lead author of the study and advanced endoscopy fellow at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. “As a result, we as physicians should focus efforts directed at controlling the burden of esophageal cancer on those who consume both of these substances.”
The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 18,000 new cases of esophageal cancer in the United States this year and more than 15,000 deaths.
Most people do not notice symptoms of esophageal cancer when tumors are very small. But as tumors grow, it can be difficult to swallow solid foods such as meats, breads or raw vegetables. Eventually, it is difficult to swallow liquids because the esophagus becomes more narrowed.
Other symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
Quitting tobacco and alcohol can lower a person’s risk for developing esophageal cancer and other types of cancer.
Sources: American College of Gastroenterology; National Cancer Institute
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