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Esophageal Cancer Causes, Risk Factors and Prevention

The Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center esophageal cancer team is dedicated to helping patients lower their risk for the disease. If you have an increased risk of cancer, talk to your doctor or make an appointment with a Banner MD Anderson specialist to discuss your concerns and options.

What Causes Esophageal Cancer?

While there isn’t a single known cause of esophageal cancer, some people are at higher risk. Some risk factors can be controlled, such as diet or tobacco use. Others cannot be controlled, like age and genetics. Know your risk factors and talk to Banner MD Anderson’s helpful doctors to help you reduce your chance of developing esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

The following risk factors increase your chance of getting esophageal cancer:

  • Tobacco: Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes and e-cigarettes/vaping or chewing tobacco and snuff
  • Alcohol: Drinking alcohol, especially when combined with smoking or other tobacco use
  • Long-term Heartburn: Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • High Body Weight and/or Poor Diet: Being overweight, overeating or not maintaining a healthy diet
  • Age: People 45 to 70 years old
  • Gender: Men are three to four times more likely than women
  • Race: People who are Black have twice the risk of people who are white
  • Exposure to Chemicals: Such as dry-cleaning solvents and lye
  • Barrett's Esophagus: Chronic acid reflux that causes changes in the cells lining the lower esophagus
  • Achalasia: A disease making it so the esophagus can’t move food to the stomach properly
  • Tylosis: A rare, inherited disorder, which causes excess skin growth on feet and hands, almost always develop esophageal cancer
  • Plummer-Vinson Syndrome (Esophageal Webs): Flaps of tissue over the esophagus, making swallowing difficult
  • Injury to the Esophagus: Ingesting lye or other substances, even very hot liquids, can damage cells and cause scar tissue that may turn into cancer years later
  • History of Certain Other Cancers: People with squamous cell cancers related to tobacco use, or head and neck cancer
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): Some types of HPV have been linked to throat, anal and cervical cancers

How to Prevent Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer prevention isn’t always possible, but you can reduce your risk. Banner MD Anderson’s caring team of experts is here to help. The following lifestyle habits lower your risk of getting esophageal cancer.

  • Avoid tobacco and alcohol: Alone, each of these increases your risk of esophageal cancer many times over, and the risk is even greater if used together. Banner MD Anderson has resources to help you quit.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Eating a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables and having a healthy body weight can limit your risk for this disease. Check out our healthy living resources.
  • Treat acid reflux or Barrett’s esophagus: Medications and sometimes surgery are needed to treat reflux to stop damage to the esophagus
  • Get periodic upper endoscopies: If you have Barrett’s Esophagus, you should receive more frequent screenings to detect esophageal cancer early. 

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