Men are almost three times more likely to get oesophageal cancer than women, according to new figures released by Cancer Research UK (CRUK).
The UK research charity said this is one of the biggest gender gaps in cancer rates, with the difference apparently caused by one particular type of oesophageal cancer – adenocarcinoma – which is linked to obesity as well as long-term acid heartburn and smoking.
Oesophageal cancer, which is a cancer of the gullet, is the ninth most common cancer in the UK and latest figures from CRUK show more than 5,600 men in the UK develop the condition each year compared to 2,800 women.
This equates to rates of almost 15 in 100,000 men who get the disease and around 5 in 100,000 women.
Despite these figures, the disease receives little public attention, causing CRUK to name it the 'quiet epidemic'.
Raising awareness is especially crucial now as CRUK's data show that adenocarcinoma in men has been rising steadily from 1,600 cases in 1997 to more than 3,000 cases during 2010.
For women, incidences of adenocarcinoma have also increased, although more slowly to around 800 cases.
Tim Underwood, an oesophageal surgeon and researcher at the University of Southampton, said: “These figures show a worrying number of oesophageal cancers being diagnosed each year, particularly among men.”
He highlighted the need to diagnose the disease early and for the public to be aware of such symptoms as food getting stuck when you swallow and persistent heart burn.
Dr Rebecca Fitzgerald, a CRUK scientist at the University of Cambridge, backed the need to improve early diagnosis.
“The chances of surviving oesophageal cancer are greatly improved when it is diagnosed at an early stage,” she said.
Dr Fitzgerald added that she was working on a trial investigating whether a technique called cytosponge or 'sponge on a string', could help doctors diagnose the very early pre-cursors of oesophageal cancer so that they can be treated.
“We hope this may have the potential to cut the number of people who develop oesophageal cancer in the future,” she said.