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Medical Edge: Diet soda an indirect factor in esophageal cancer

Special to the Eagle

Dear Mayo Clinic: Is there any connection between esophageal cancer and diet soda?

Answer (from Dr. Claude Deschamps, Thoracic Surgery, and Jennifer Nelson, dietitian, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.):

The quick answer is no. But the quick answer doesn't tell the whole story. There are interconnections between soda, obesity, gastroesophagel reflux disease and esophageal cancer that may indicate it's best to go easy on soda.

The incidence of esophageal cancer continues to increase, and so far, researchers can't pinpoint a single reason for the increase. But there are two important risk factors associated with soda consumption.

First, frequent or constant heartburn is the most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. While heartburn seems like just a nuisance, about 5 percent of people with GERD will develop Barrett's esophagus, a condition that occurs when acid reflux stimulates changes in the lining of the lower esophagus. Patients with Barrett's esophagus have a 30- to 125-fold increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. And GERD is also associated with obesity.

Second, soda consumption - even of diet soda - can contribute to weight gain.

A 12-ounce regular soda contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar, which boosts calories. And according to a study presented at last year's annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, people who drink two or more cans of diet soda a day have a 57.1 percent risk of becoming overweight or obese compared to 47.2 percent for those who drank more than two cans of regular soda a day. The study, done by researchers at Texas Health Science Center, tracked 622 people for about seven years.

It's not clear why diet soda consumption was associated with a higher risk of weight gain. The researchers speculated that diet soda drinkers fared worse because they opted for diet soda in an effort to lose weight. But drinking diet soda - without other changes - isn't enough to shed pounds. Another theory is that perhaps the artificial sweeteners in diet soda somehow stimulate appetite.

Maintaining a healthy body weight clearly reduces your risk of many chronic illnesses, including some cancers. While the interplay between soda, obesity and GERD has not been directly linked to esophageal cancer, there are enough connections to be cautious and watch what you drink.

"¢ To submit a question, write to or to Medical Edge from Mayo Clinic, c/o Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, N.Y., 14207. For health information, visit

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