KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Acid reflux, which is stomach acid coming up the esophagus, shouldn't be ignored. It can lead to cancer of the esophagus. The incidence of that cancer is growing faster than any other. New research may lead to more people having a procedure to lower the chances of cancer.
Jerry Hulse used to have heartburn and reflux no matter what he ate. Acid would come up especially when he'd lie down to sleep.
"It was right here, right in my throat. The burning and, you know, I was eating Tums like it was candy," said Hulse.
A doctor looked down the esophagus and saw the lining had adapted to handle all the acid. It's called Barrett's Esophagus.
"You get mutations in the cells which can then lead to cancer," said Dr. Daniel Buckles, a gastroenterologist at the University of Kansas Hospital.
So Hulse had radiofrequency ablation. A scope goes down the esophagus to deliver heat to burn the surface layers, getting rid of pre-cancerous cells.
"And then as long as people are on medications to block the acid, when the esophagus heals, the lining heals up as normal lining," said Dr. Buckles.
For Hulse, it got rid of high grade cells, meaning they were more likely to become cancerous. But what about those with cells that are abnormal but less advanced?
A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds they may benefit, too. Those who had the procedure were 25 percent less likely to develop high grade cells or cancer over a three-year period.
Hulse is glad he had ablation.
"I can sleep laying down flat now. I can eat just about anything I want to eat," he said.
And Hulse doesn't worry about getting esophageal cancer. He encourages others with acid reflux to get it checked out.
Doctors think the incidence of esophageal cancer is increasing in part because of obesity. Weight puts pressure on the abdomen, causing acid to come up, which results in the changes that can lead to cancer.