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Heartburn may be an early indication of stomach cancer, according to a team of health experts from the UK.

A cancer campaign organised by Public Health England on Monday urged people to seek medical help if they get heartburn continuously for three weeks and also experience difficulty swallowing food.

"People may be reluctant to visit their doctor about persistent heartburn, thinking that it's something they just have to live with. But heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more could be a sign of cancer," Professor Kevin Fenton, National Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, said in a news release.

This information is mainly important because early diagnosis is one of the important factors needed to improve treatment outcome and survival.

Stomach cancer, which starts from the tissues lining the stomach, is the fifth most common cancer in the whole world, according to a data released by the World Cancer Research Fund International. In 2012, nearly 9,52,000 people were detected with stomach cancer.

The disease claimed 7,23,000 lives in 2012, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

A study conducted by the Tata Memorial Centre (TMC) in April 2012 found that stomach cancer was the second leading causes of cancer-related deaths in India. It is estimated that 52,700 Indians including men (25,200) and women (27,500) lose their battle against stomach cancer every year. Consumption of too much spicy and non-vegetarian food and malnutrition were mainly blamed for this occurrence, a DNA report showed.

"In many places in India the diet is low in fibre content. Spicy food and lots of non-vegetarian food can cause the chronic inflammation of the stomach lining, which if left untreated can turn cancerous," Mahesh Goel, associate professor in gastro-intestinal oncology at TMC, told DNA.

"Malnutrition causes the hydrochloric acid produced by the stomach to burn the stomach lining and cause gastroenteritis. If this condition is exacerbated then it can cause cancer," said Shailesh Shrikhande, HoD of gastro-intestinal cancer surgery at TMC.

Some other factors linked to stomach cancer, according to Mayo Clinic, include high intake of salt, Helicobacter pylori (bacteria) infection, smoking and pernicious anaemia, which is caused by a deficiency of vitamin B12.