Are You at Risk for Cancer of the Esophagus?

Cancer of the esophagus, which is a hollow, muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach, is relatively rare in the United States, making up just 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed. The good news is that rates of this type of cancer have been falling slightly in each of the past 10 years, and survival rates are improving, especially if esophageal cancer is detected early.

During the 1960s and 1970s, only about 5 percent of patients survived at least five years after being diagnosed. Now, about 20 percent of patients are making it to the five-year mark, according to the American Cancer Society.

Who’s at risk? Esophageal cancer is four times more common among men than among women, and the risk goes up the older people get.

What you can do

While the exact cause of esophageal cancer is unknown, research suggests that the
following measures may reduce your risk:

  • Turn your back on tobacco. Because smoking damages the DNA in the cells lining your esophagus, smoking significantly increases your risk of this type of cancer.

  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. About 15 percent of esophageal cancers can be linked to a diet low in fruits and vegetables, according to the American Cancer Society. Eating more of those foods raw may offer even more protection.

  • Hold off on hot liquids. Drinking very hot beverages may damage esophageal cells, potentially leading to cancer, according to some studies.

  • Reduce alcohol consumption. Research shows that people who drink more than three alcoholic beverages a day are more likely than nondrinkers to develop cancer of the esophagus.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being obese, especially around the abdomen, has been linked to esophageal cancer.

  • Get a grip on GERD. If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the constant exposure of your esophageal lining to stomach acids and bile can seriously damage your esophagus, possibly causing esophageal cancer.

Having Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of GERD, further increases your risk of esophageal cancer. If you have GERD or Barrett’s esophagus, schedule an upper endoscopy on a routine basis so that your doctor can look for precancerous changes in the lining of your esophagus.

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HealthAfter50 was published by the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health, providing up-to-date, evidence-based research and expert advice on the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of a wide range of health conditions affecting adults in middle age and beyond. It was previously part of Remedy Health Media's network of digital and print publications, which also include HealthCentral; HIV/AIDS resources The Body and The Body Pro; the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter; and the Berkeley Wellness website. All content from HA50 merged into in 2018.