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These people also have twice the risk of developing advanced precancerous cells, according to the study in the February issue of Gastroenterology.
"We found that tobacco smoking emerged as the strongest lifestyle risk factor for cancer progression. Contrary to popular belief, alcohol consumption didn't increase cancer risk in this group of patients with Barrett's esophagus," lead author Helen Coleman, of Queen's University Belfast in Northern Ireland, said in a news release from the American Gastroenterological Association.
In people with Barrett's esophagus, damage caused by stomach acid causes the lining of the esophagus to become similar to the lining of the stomach, according to the U.S. MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Most people with Barrett's esophagus do not develop esophageal cancer.
For the study, researchers looked at more than 3,000 Barrett's esophagus patients worldwide and identified 117 cases of dysplasia or cancers of the esophagus or stomach.
Current smoking, regardless of the number of cigarettes smoked per day, was significantly associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. Therefore, cutting down on cigarette consumption may not be enough to reduce the risk of esophageal cancer in people with Barrett's esophagus, the researchers suggested.
"Tobacco smoking has been long established as highly carcinogenic," Coleman said. "Barrett's esophagus patients who smoke should start a cessation program immediately."
Although the study authors pointed out that more research is needed to confirm the findings, and the association noted in the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and esophageal cancer in these patients, Coleman's team suggested that smoking should be discouraged.
The investigators also noted that developed countries have seen a rise in the incidence of esophageal cancer.
-- Robert Preidt
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