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Cancer is one of the leading causes of death around the world, but researchers have yet to find a cure. A sharp drop in cancer diagnoses during the pandemic fuelled fears that a large number of cases will be picked up too late. As a result, the NHS is raising awareness of the red flag cancer symptoms, in a bid to help with the early identification of the disease. Doctor Hussain Abdeh, Clinical Director and Superintendent Pharmacist and Medicine Direct, explained that one lesser-known sign in the throat may be signalling cancer.
In 2006, a small Irish study based on a sample of 99 patients with oesophagus cancer, found 27 percent reported persistent hiccup attacks.
The reason why such patients experience these attacks however remains unclear.
At the time of the study, the study’s leader, Thomas Walsh, explained hiccups were a previously unrecognised symptom of oesophageal cancer warranting further investigation.
He noted that persistent hiccups – referring to bouts that last typically longer than 48 hours – were not the most common symptom reported during the study.
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Findings showed 68 percent of participants reported weight loss and 82 percent had difficulty swallowing, with lethargy also identified as a common symptom.
Hiccups are caused by a sudden spasm in the diaphragm – the muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest.
According to doctor Abdeh, they are “a common problem that affects everyone from time to time.
“They are usually caused by eating or drinking too quickly, drinking alcohol or eating too much.”
“However, there may be a sign of cancer if your stomach stops working properly and you notice that it has bloated for no apparent reason.”
Hussain explained that if a tumour pressure against the diaphragm, this could trigger spasms.
Walsh’s hypothesis echoed this theory in 2006.
He suggested that hiccups in oesophageal cancer patients could be connected with the phrenic nerve – the nerve that controls the diaphragm.
“If a person suffers from persistent hiccups, they should speak to their doctor,” added doctor Abdeh.
“If the doctor can find no obvious reason for them, they may refer the sufferer for tests such as an endoscopy, chest X-ray, ECG or blood tests.
“It is during these tests that cancer may be detected.”
Oesophageal cancer, also known as gullet cancer, has a survival rate of 90 percent when treated at stage one after early detection.
Though hiccups may signal the disease, they are deemed a relatively rare symptom.
Cancer Research UK says: “Hiccups are a common problem that we all have from time to time.
“But when hiccups are a symptom of cancer or a side effect of cancer treatment, they can go on for longer. This makes them tiring and difficult to cope with.”
According to the NHS, other symptoms of oesophageal cancer include heartburn, a persistent cough, and indigestion.
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