Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

A risk factor is something about you that increases your chance of getting a disease or having a certain health condition. Some risk factors for esophageal cancer you cannot change, but some you can. Changing the risk factors that you have control over will help you live a longer, healthier life.

Risk factors do not mean that you will get the disease. Many people who have these risk factors do not develop the disease and many who develop the disease did not have any of these risk factors.

The risk factors for esophageal cancer are:

  • Age – Esophageal cancer is most common in people over the age of 65.
  • Sex – Men are three times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer.
  • Heartburn – People with chronic heartburn (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) are at an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Barrett’s esophagus – This condition is caused by long-term acid reflux. People with Barrett’s esophagus are at an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Smoking and drinking alcohol – People who smoke are at a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer than people who don’t smoke. People who drink alcohol are also at a greater risk; the more a person drinks alcohol, the greater risk. The risk is increased even more if a person both drinks alcohol and smokes.
  • Overweight – People who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer than those who maintain a normal weight.
  • Achalasia – With this medical condition, the sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus doesn’t relax properly; consequently, food collects in the esophagus rather than moving on to the stomach. About 6 percent of people with achalasia develop squamous cell cancer of the esophagus.
  • Personal history – People who have a history of other cancers, especially lung or mouth cancer, have a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer.

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