Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month


Did you know that the number one cause of esophageal cancer in the United States is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)? While GERD is common – between 30 and 40 Americans are affected by it each year – many patients believe that GERD isn’t impacting their overall health.

Experts at St. Elizabeth Healthcare want to flip the script on that myth. April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, and our Thoracic Surgery department is committed to educating the Northern Kentucky community on GERD and its direct connection to esophageal cancer.

“GERD isn’t something to simply live with,” says Dr. Valerie Williams, Thoracic Surgeon at St. Elizabeth Healthcare. “GERD can have long-term and potentially cancer-causing complications for your health.”

What is GERD?

GERD is caused by the valve at the bottom of the esophagus not functioning correctly. Food and stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus, causing discomfort and injury to the esophagus.

GERD symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation, which is when fluid or food comes back up into the esophagus
  • Waking up choking
  • Cough

Chronic GERD can lead to a change in the esophagus lining, known as Barrett’s esophagus. Patients with Barrett’s esophagus have a 50-time higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.

“Esophageal cancer is the fastest-rising cancer in the United States,” says Dr. Williams. “Our team recommends GERD treatment to both improve a patient’s quality of life and to lower their risk factors for developing esophageal cancer.”

How can GERD be treated?

The first step for most GERD patients is medication and lifestyle changes to manage their symptoms. Patients typically begin with an over-the-counter PPI (proton pump inhibitor) medication and/or prescription medication to help control their acid levels. The medications can be effective for a period of time, but many times the symptoms begin to slowly return. Patients with chronic GERD symptoms should talk to their physician for further evaluation.

For patients struggling with persistent GERD symptoms despite optimized medical treatment, St. Elizabeth Healthcare offers the minimally invasive LINX surgery.

Dr. Williams is the only surgeon in the TriState area to perform magnetic sphincter augmentation or LINX, an FDA-approved device the size of a quarter that is designed to take the place of a patient’s defective reflux barrier. The LINX device is a bracelet-like circle of titanium magnetic beads that opens and closes for food but prevents damaging stomach acid and digestive juices from coming up into the esophagus. It is placed laparoscopically.

“The LINX procedure can significantly reduce or even completely eliminate GERD symptoms and it does not have the side effects seen with other reflux surgeries like Nissen fundoplication,” says Dr. Williams. “Not only will you be able to return to your active lifestyle, you’ll be taking important steps to reduce esophageal cancer-causing risk factors.”

GERD Patient? We Can Help

For more information or to learn more about GERD treatment options, please call the St. Elizabeth Thoracic Surgery office at (859) 301-2465 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Williams and her team.