Health Check: Preventing esophageal cancer

When it comes to esophageal cancer, Dr. Weibiao Cao is an expert.

"I have done the research in this area for more than 10 years," he said.

Cao's research at Rhode Island Hospital focuses on prevention.

"This cancer has a very poor prognosis. Five year survival is less than 20 percent. The median survival time is 18 months after diagnosis," he said.

Frequent acid indigestion can lead to something called Barrett's esophagus.

"We know cancer develops from Barrett's esophagus, but we're not sure the mechanism that causes the cancer," Cao said.

Cao's latest research suggests there's a pathway that links Barrett's esophagus to the development of cancer, an enzyme that leads to gene damage. He also suggests high doses of a proton pump inhibitor -- omeprazole for one -- could prevent cancer.

In a small sampling of a colleague's patients, the results were promising.

"We just give them high dosage of proton pump inhibitors for one month and then we did the biopsies before and after," Cao said.

Of the 15 people, Cao said only one went on to develop cancer.

Cao's latest research is published in American Journal of Cell Physiology and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

He admitted further research is needed and wants to see if long-term acid treatments might reverse any damage.