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Obesity and overweight are increasingly being associated with various chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. A recently published study in the scientific journal Cancer shows that Israeli teenagers who were overweight had an increased risk for developing cancer in the esophagus or gastroesophageal junction in their adulthood.
The esophagus is the hollow tube that connects your throat to the stomach. The lower portion of this tube where it meets the stomach is called the gastro-esophageal (GE) junction and it includes the first two inches of the stomach, which is called the cardia. Although gastroesophageal cancer is classified as a malignancy of the stomach, it behaves more like a malignancy of the esophagus and it is treated like it.
According to the National Cancer Institute, esophageal cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in the U.S., and it is projected that more than 14,000 people will be diagnosed this year with the disease. It has also been noted that in the last three decades there has been a shift in the type of cells affected. While most cancers of the esophagus used to be of the squamous cell type before, most cases now seen involve the glandular tissues (adenocarcinoma).
Esophageal cancer affects people in their mid to late adulthood, mostly males. Aside from age and sex, various factors have been associated with the disease including obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, iron deficiency, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Some studies also show that people who belong to lower income levels and low educational levels are more likely to be affected.
Symptoms of esophageal and gastroesophageal cancer include difficulty in swallowing, pain with swallowing, frequent heartburn, indigestion, pain behind the breastbone, hoarseness, coughing, and unexplained weight loss.
Body Mass Index and Gastroesophageal Cancer
Research shows that body mass index (BMI) is a significant risk factor associated with the development of esophageal and GE cancer. BMI is a measure of adiposity or amount of body fat measured with regards to one’s weight and height. Studies show that the risk of developing esophageal cancer rises with increasing BMI. Other confounding factors such as tobacco smoking further increase the likelihood of acquiring the disease.
One study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that the magnitude of association between BMI and esophageal cancer was greater among the younger adults than those older than 70 years. A more recent analysis of several other studies involving US and European populations support these findings, finding a positive correlation between BMI and esophageal cancer risk.