Persistent GERD not only means continual discomfort for the patient, but it also can cause long-term problems, some of which are serious. Studies have shown that asthma, chronic cough and pulmonary fibrosis may be aggravated or even caused by GERD.
As a result of untreated GERD, the esophagus can become inflamed, causing bleeding and ulcers. Scars from tissue damage can narrow the esophagus and make swallowing more difficult. Some people develop Barrett’s esophagus, where cells in the esophageal lining take on abnormal shape and color, and can lead to cancer.
A small subset of patients with GERD develops a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus, where the normal lining of the esophagus is replaced by abnormal tissue called specialized intestinal metaplasia.
About 10 percent of people who have GERD will develop Barrett's esophagus, and about 1 percent of those will develop esophageal cancer. The more frequent, severe and longer in duration the symptoms, the greater the risk.
If Barrett's esophagus is present, you should undergo endoscopic screening every two to three years.
In the absence of Barrett's esophagus there is no strong evidence that GERD is a risk factor for developing cancer.