From Evan Z. Lang, MD, MS, medical oncologist and hematologist

April 7, 2021

Taking steps to prevent cancer and understanding cancer risk factors are critical to well-being, particularly with cancers like esophageal cancer that are difficult to detect. While the American Cancer Society has found that esophageal cancer accounts for only 1% of cancer diagnoses in the U.S., it estimates that 15,530 individuals will succumb to the disease this year. So, what can you do to protect yourself?

Cancer of the esophagus, the hollow tube connecting the throat to the stomach, occurs when cells in its lining begin to grow out of control. There are no standard or routine tests to detect esophageal cancer, and it can be challenging to detect in its early stages. Oftentimes, esophageal cancer does not cause symptoms until a tumor grows and interferes with swallowing. While some risk factors are out of our control, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk of getting esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

To better understand how to protect yourself from developing esophageal cancer, you must first understand risk factors. Men are three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women, and white men develop this disease at higher rates than black men in all age groups. According to the National Cancer Institute, disease rates are higher in black women through age 69 but higher in white women age 70 or older. Your chance of developing esophageal cancer increases with age as it is most diagnosed in people over 50.

Additional risk factors for developing esophageal cancer include smoking, drinking alcohol, obesity, and having acid reflux or gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD). GERD occurs when the enzymes and strong acid made by the stomach to digest food escape into the lower part of the esophagus.

Some vitamin deficiencies and illnesses or medical conditions increase the risk for esophageal cancer. These include:

  • Beta-carotene, vitamin E, selenium, and iron deficiency
  • Cancer of the head, neck, or lungs
  • HPV (human papillomavirus) infection
  • Achalasia- a condition when the valve between the esophagus and stomach does not open properly
  • Tylosis- a very rare inherited disease
  • Esophageal webs- abnormal bands of tissue that extend inward into the esophagus

Esophageal Cancer Protective Factors

Not all esophageal cancers can be prevented, but there are ways to reduce your risk. According to the American Cancer Society, one of the best ways to protect yourself is to avoid tobacco and alcohol. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by having a healthy weight. Stay physically active and eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

If you have frequent heartburn, speak to your doctor about acid reflux or GERD and ways to control the condition. Suffering with reflux for a long time can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, damage to the inner lining of the esophagus that increases your cancer risk.

Treatment Options

Treatment for esophageal cancer has improved and survival rates are getting better. OHC cancer specialists are the region’s leading experts in the treatment of adult cancers. In addition to the standard treatments for esophageal cancer including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, OHC gives patients access to the latest treatments through clinical trials. Presently, OHC is participating in a phase III study comparing the efficacy and safety of sintilimab with chemotherapy for those with advanced, recurrent or metastatic esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Sintilimab is an immunotherapy that uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer. New treatment options offer hope to patients living with life-threatening diseases.

During this Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, discuss your symptoms with an OHC expert, learn more about OHC’s innovative treatment options and cancer research program, or request a second opinion, by visiting or calling 1-888-649-4800.

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