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Esophageal Cancer

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Esophageal cancer is a disease that occurs in the esophagus — a long tube that runs from your throat to your stomach, which carries food and liquids to the stomach for digestion. The esophagus wall has several layers. There are two types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas occur in the upper esophagus, whereas adenocarcinomas occur in the lower esophagus, near the stomach.


  • In 2014, 18,170 new cases of esophageal cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the United States.
  • An estimated 15,450 Americans will die from the disease in 2014.
  • In Texas, an estimated 1,066 new esophageal cases are anticipated, and 911 Texans are expected to die from the disease in 2014.

Risk Factors 

  • Age: The risk of esophageal cancer increases with age, with the majority of people diagnosed being over the age of 55.
  • Sex: Men are three to four times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women.
  • Acid Reflux: A history of acid reflux significantly increases risk.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: Barrett’s esophagus results from long-term acid reflux. In this situation, the lining cells of the esophagus undergo a change to a glandular type of cell, and this change may result in a greater risk of developing adenocarcinoma.
  • Tobacco and alcohol: Both tobacco and alcohol significantly raise the risk of esophageal cancer. Together, the risk is much greater than either alone.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight or obese have a higher risk of esophageal cancer, as this population is more likely to have acid reflux.

Symptoms and Signs 

Esophageal cancer varies with each patient. People with these symptoms should consult their physician:

  • Trouble swallowing that worsens over time
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss with no known cause
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Persistent hoarseness, cough, or hiccups
  • Blood in stool or vomiting of blood
  • Loss of appetite
  • Pain located behind the breastbone

Tips for Prevention 

Some cases of esophageal cancer are preventable by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including not using tobacco, limiting alcohol intake, and eating a healthy diet. Texas Oncology recommends people with Barrett’s esophagus get tested to look for signs of cancer. Preventing Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer may be possible by treating reflux. If you have chronic heartburn or reflux, you should contact your physician as treatment may lower your risk of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer.


Treatment options for people with esophageal cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or a combination of these treatments. Esophageal cancer is difficult to control with current treatments; therefore, many doctors encourage patients to consider participating in a clinical trial.

Source: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, National Library of Medicine, and Texas Cancer Registry