What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer occurs in the lining of the esophagus, which is a long, hollow tube that runs from your throat to your stomach and carries food you swallow to your stomach to be digested. Esophageal cancer can occur anywhere along the esophagus, but in the United States it occurs most often in the lower portion of the esophagus.
Esophageal cancer is not common in the United States, but is more common in Asia and parts of Africa. More men than women are diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Every year, approximately 18,170 people are diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the United States, and approximately 15,450 will die of their disease.
The lifetime risk of developing esophageal cancer for men is 1 in 125 and for women, 1 in 435. Although many people with esophageal cancer die from this disease, treatment and survival rates have improved.
What are the risk factors for esophageal cancer?
- Age: The risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age. Less than 15 percent of cases are found in people younger than 55.
- Gastro-esophageal reflux disease: Reflux occurs when stomach acids flow back from the stomach into the esophagus. This can cause heartburn and damage to the lining of the esophagus. People with reflux have a slightly higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Barrett’s esophagus: The longer someone has reflux, the more likely they will develop Barrett’s, which is the gradual change of the cells lining the esophagus from normal to abnormal (dysplasia).
- Tobacco and alcohol: Combining drinking and smoking raises the risk of esophageal cancer much higher than using either alone.
- Obesity: People who are overweight are more likely to have esophageal reflux.
- Diet: Studies have indicated that a diet high in fat and processed meats may increase risk for esophageal cancer.