Heartburn is an uncomfortable but common feeling of burning or warmth in the chest. Although the pain of heartburn is felt in the chest, heartburn has nothing to do with your heart. Instead, heartburn is caused by stomach acid.
Continual bouts of heartburn can be a symptom of a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. Frequent or severe heartburn may limit daily activities and lead to further complications such as ulcers in the esophagus. With proper understanding of heartburn and treatment, relief can be obtained from this condition.
Testing of frequent heartburn is important to rule out esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is a tumor that begins to grow in the lining of the esophagus, and then can grow through the wall of the esophagus. If the tumor grows through the esophageal wall, it can then spread to other parts of the body through the lymphatic system.
Most of the length of the esophagus is lined with squamous cells. If a malignant tumor grows here, it's called squamous cell cancer. The areas at the bottom of the esophagus, and where the esophagus joins the stomach, are lined with columnar cells. If a malignant tumor grows here, it's called adenocarcinomas.
Studies have shown a relationship between frequency of reflux symptoms and risk of adenocarcinoma. The constant acid reflux will irritate the lining of the esophagus, and complications can occur, such as Barrett's esophagus. Individuals who develop Barrett's esophagus are about 40 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than individuals in the general population.