Chennai: Deep fried samosas, oily bajjis and cheesy burgers washed down with sugar-loaded aerated drinks lead not just to a bulging waistline, but can increase risk of food pipe cancer.
Over the past 20 years, many hospitals across India have recorded a two-fold increase in cancer of the lower part of the food pipe caused by prolonged acid reflux disease linked to junk food.
"This kind of cancer is common in the west. Now we are seeing it more often in India. There is a link between high-fat, low-fibre food and cancer. Many people diagnosed with this type of cancer have been suffering from reflux," said Dr R Swaminathan, professor and head, biostatistics and cancer registry, Cancer Institute.
In people with reflux, the acid which the stomach uses to digest food escapes into the lower part of the food pipe. This constant backwash of acid can irritate the lining of the food pipe causing inflammation and scars leading to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The commonest symptom is heartburn or chest pain. In the last two decades, doctors say, reflux has reached epidemic proportions.
Over a period of time, reflux can cause a kind of cancer called adenocarcinoma that develops in the gland cells. The Cancer Institute, Chennai, which maintains the Madras Metropolitan Tumour registry, has now decided to do a pilot study and register types and sites of foodpipe cancer for the city registry and national registry.
"This type of cancer occurs only in the bottommost part of the food pipe," Dr Swaminathan said.
In the 90s, gastroenterologists saw a rise in squamous cell cancer, mostly in the top and middle parts of the foodpipe, which is mainly caused by smoking or chewing tobacco. Now, nearly a quarter of foodpipe cancers are at the bottom of the food pipe. In some hospitals, the number is even higher. For instance in Coimbatore, gastroenterologists say at least 40% to 50% of food pipe cancers are caused by GERD. "In the mid-1990s, only 10% to 15% of cancers were adenocarcinoma. Last year we saw the trend nearly reverse," said the founder and chairman of Gem Hospitals, Dr C Palanivelu.
Senior gastroenterologists say dietary habits have played a huge role in pushing up cancer of the foodpipe. Two years ago, an ongoing study by Government General Hospital's department of surgical gastroenterology linked smoked meat - red meat or fish dipped in greasy oil, and covered with a mix of salt, chilli powder and spices before it is cooked directly over fire - to food pipe cancers.
Besides the fast food mentioned above, there is another major cause which causes acid reflux. Sleeping within an hour of having a heavy meal, especially on your right side. As you grow older the problem aggravates as like other parts of the body the valves in different parts of the body become slow in operation. The epiglottis which prevents from food entering the wind pipe also weakens and you will find that you have more frequent attacks of food entering the wind pipe. Similarly, the valve which seals the food from reentering the food canal weakens and thus acid from the stomach flows back into the wind pipe, causing acid reflux. This is all because of aging and nothing can be done about it. You have to just eat slower and eat light at night and sleep on your left side.