Alcohol and Cancer of the Gullet

While researchers and international pharmaceutical companies continue their quest for that illusive Cancer Cure, we can help ourselves, and the tottering NHS, by focusing on Cancer Prevention.

So many recent studies have highlighted the impact of Nutrition and Lifestyle in preventing cancer that it would be foolish to ignore them. We all know by now for instance that smoking can lead to lung cancer.  But fewer people are yet aware of the risk of esophagus, (gullet), cancer resulting from heavy drinking  - a risk multiplied when combined with smoking and/or obesity.

Such a lifestyle can lead to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, a gastro-esophageal reflux disease, otherwise known as GERD. This causes stomach acid to go back up the gullet, corroding the cells that line it. This can lead a cancerous tumour. Some 1.5million in Britain alone are affected by GERD. Consequent gullet cancer is now the sixth biggest cause of cancer death in the UK.

Regular time-consuming and uncomfortable upper endoscopy tests for GERD or frequent heartburn, will identify precursor lesions that can turn cancerous but all too few receive check ups for this condition. Many patients with GERD remain undiagnosed unless an endoscopy is performed for other digestive reasons.

We can considerably minimize the risk of GERD and gullet cancer by cutting out smoking, cutting down alcohol intake, reducing weight and increasing exercise. Such lifestyle changes also minimize stomach, pancreatic and colorectal cancer risk.

Additionally we can cut out acid regurgitation by decreasing our intake of fatty or large meals, avoiding recumbency and sleep for 3 – 4 hours after a meal, and elevating the head of bed by 6 – 8 inches.

Warning signs of GERD which primarily afflicts the over 50s are the onset of chronic cough, recurrent sore throat or laryngitis, dental enamel loss, subglottic stenosis or globus, (see below).

17/11/2016 Edited

Further to my article on the risk of gullet cancer from alcohol consumption, a new study by an Australian research team published in the online journal BMC Cancer has shown that there is a significant risk of prostate cancer from longterm alcohol consumption. Having up to two drinks a day over a long period ,(described as low volume drinking), can increase the chances of prostate cancer by 23 per cent. Prostate cancer must therefore be added to breast, gullet, colon, and liver cancers which are related to alcohol consumption.

Further reading

BMC Cancer  Prostate Cancer and alcohol consumption.



Esophagus: The gullet, a pipe that runs between throat and stomach.

Endoscopy: A hospital procedure using specialized instruments to view and operate on the internal organs and vessels of your body. It allows surgeons to view problems within your body without making large incisions. An endoscope is a flexible tube with an attached camera that allows your doctor to see. This can be inserted through the mouth and the doctor can use forceps (tongs) and scissors on the endoscope to operate or remove tissue for biopsy and determine whether it is cancerous or benign.

Subglottic stenosis: Partial or complete narrowing of the subglottic windpipe area caused by inflammation or scar tissue. The onset can be insidious and early manifestations are usually mistaken for other disorders such as bronchitis or asthma.

Globus:  The persistent sensation of having phlegm, a pill or obstruction in the throat when there is none.

Further Reading

Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Incidence of Barrett’s Oesophagus and diagnosis.


Endoscopy procedures.

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