Esophageal cancer develops in the innermost lining of the esophagus and grows outward. There are different types of esophageal cancer including squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. The esophagus is part of the digestive system. It is a muscular tube about 12” long that carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach.
Globally, cancer of the esophagus is common in Iran, Northern China, India and Southern Africa. In Western countries, the rate of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus in white men has been increasing at about 2% a year.
Who is at Risk?
A RISK FACTOR increases the likelihood that you will develop a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will develop a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. Risk factors for esophageal cancer include:
- Age – Risk increases with age. Nearly half of all people diagnosed with this type of cancer are over age 70.
- Gender – Men are three times more likely than women to develop this type of cancer.
- Diet – Research suggests that diets low in fruits and vegetables, as well as certain vitamins and minerals including viramins A, C and riboflavin may increase risk.
- Tobacco use – The risk of developing esophageal cancer increases significantly if you use tobacco products including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco.
- Alcohol – long-term heavy drinking increases your risk of esophageal cancer especially when used in combination with tobacco products.
- Obesity – being obese increases your risk of esophageal cancer. The risk of dying from this cancer is 50% higher in obese men.
- Medical conditions – including Barrett esophagus and, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What Decreases my Risk?
Any factor that lowers your risk of developing a disease is known as a PROTECTIVE FACTOR. These factors do not guarantee that a disease will not develop. Different cancers have different protective factors.
The best way is to change certain factors in your lifestyle to lower risk. Possible protective factors against esophageal cancer are:
- Alcohol and Tobacco – these substances should be avoided.
- Diet – Evidence suggests that eating a diet containing fruits and vegetables, especially when eaten raw may lower your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight – by exercising on a regular basis.
Signs and Symptoms
There are often no signs or symptoms in the early stages. Typical signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer are:
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing and the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest).
- Avoidance of solid food because of pain when you swallow.
- Pain especially mid-chest.
- Unintended weight loss.
Screening tests are done on persons who have no signs or symptoms of a disease. There is no recommended screening test for esophageal cancer in most countries including the United States.