The Common Condition Behind Charlie Sheen’s Cancer Scare

The Common Condition Behind Charlie Sheen’s Cancer Scare

The actor feared he would have to undergo surgical treatment because of his throat condition. (Photo: Michael Buckner/Getty Images)

Many have suspected actor Charlie Sheen’s hard-partying ways might eventually catch up with him — and even the actor feared the worst when he was continually losing his voice on the set of his FX show, “Anger Management,” about a year ago.

In an exclusive interview, Sheen told The National ENQUIRER that he sought care from a throat and vocal cord surgeon, who initially diagnosed him with pre-throat cancer and said he would have to have aggressive treatment involving surgery. But after seeking a second opinion, the real culprit of Sheen’s voice problems was revealed: “laryngeal inflammation” due to a case of acid reflux.

Acid reflux (or gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD) is a chronic condition where stomach acid drains backward into the esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn, coughing, wheezing, hoarseness, and that “lump in your throat” feeling. And it can sometimes seem like a more serious condition, like cancer or a heart attack.

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According to Gina Sam, MD, MPH, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at The Mount Sinai Hospital, conditions like hypersensitive esophagus and achalasia (a motility disorder of the esophagus where the lower esophageal sphincter does not relax) can also seem like acid reflux. 

This is why persistent symptoms may require evaluation to make sure reflux is really the cause of patients’ symptoms. “These patients will have GERD that, despite treatment, will make no difference,” she tells Yahoo Health.

In fact, just earlier this month, President Obama visited the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a lingering sore throat, which was considered concerning enough that doctors ordered a CT scan for him. However, they eventually concluded the President’s symptoms were “consistent with soft tissue inflammation related to acid reflux,” according to CNN.

Acid reflux is extremely common, affecting roughly 20 percent of the adults in the United States, according to the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. According to Sam, risk factors for the condition include obesity, eating large fatty meals, eating late meals, and certain foods. “Tomatoes, citric beverages, lemon, alcohol, [and] a large amount of caffeine can also cause symptoms,” she says.

If you find that you’re experiencing symptoms of the condition that don’t resolve with a simple antacid like Tums or grow worse over time, don’t panic, but do see your doctor if they’re occurring more than twice a week.

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Left untreated, Sam says the condition can lead to more serious problems. “GERD can cause the end of the esophagus to develop some damage, and the cells try to replace itself and then can develop Barrett’s esophagus, considered a pre-cancerous lesion,” she explains, adding that people experiencing symptoms of GERD for more than six months should see a gastroenterologist.

Sometimes treatment for mild acid reflux is as simple as antacids. But it can also require lifestyle changes, or medications like H-2-receptor blockers like cimetidine (Tagamet HB) or famotidine (Pepcid AC) for longer-lasting relief.

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