About Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the esophagus, a hollow muscular tube that moves food and liquid from the throat to the stomach.
The two most common types of esophageal cancer are:
  • Squamous cells carcinoma: cancer that begins in the squamous cells, which line the esophagus. This type of cancer can occur anywhere along the esophageal tract.
  • Adenocarcinoma: cancer that originate from gland cells, which produce and secrete mucus to help food move through the esophagus. This type of cancer is more common in the lower esophagus.
Each type of esophageal cancer grows and is treated in different ways. Your City of Hope team of cancer experts will carefully study your individual case and work with you to determine the best treatment plan for you.
Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
Screening for esophageal cancer is not currently recommended for the general population, but certain high risk groups — like those with Barrett’s esophagus — should undergo periodic endoscopy to screen for esophageal cancer. 
Esophageal cancer is usually found as a result of symptoms caused by the cancer, and they can include:
  • Trouble or painful swallowing
  • Feeling like food is getting “stuck” after swallowing
  • Chest pain, particularly behind the breast bone
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent hoarseness and coughing
  • Esophageal bleeding, which can lead to black stools
  • Frequent vomiting and  hiccupping
While many of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions, early esophageal cancer detection is critical to successful treatment. If you or a loved one experiences any of the above symptoms, please contact a doctor for further evaluation.
Risk Factors of Esophageal Cancer
Risk factors associated with esophageal cancer include:
  • Age: The chance of getting esophageal cancer increases with age; more than 85 percent are diagnosed in people age 55 or older.
  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption is linked with a higher risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: Chronic reflux of stomach acid in to the esophagus can damage the inner lining of the esophageal tract. Over time, the normal squamous cells lining the esophagus are replaced with gland cells — a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. This elevates the risk of developing adenocarcinoma.
  • Diet: a diet high in processed meat may elevate esophageal cancer risk, while a diet high in fruits and vegetables may lower it. Additionally, drinking very hot liquids frequently may increase risk due to its long-term damage to esophageal lining.
  • Esophageal conditions: In addition to Barrett’s esophagus and GERD, people with conditions such as achalasia (the esophagus sphincter fails to relax properly), Plummer-Vinson syndrome (which causes esophageal webs that can obstruct food’s passage into the stomach) and tylosis (an inherited disease that predisposes people to develop small esophageal growths) are at an elevated risk for developing esophageal cancer.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): For people with GERD, the stomach's digestive enzymes and acid escape into the lower part of the esophagus, causing frequent heartburn or pain in the middle of the chest. People with GERD have a slightly elevated risk of getting adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. GERD also elevates the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus, another risk factor for esophageal cancer.
  • Gender: Men are three times more likely than women to get esophageal cancer.
  • Overweight/obesity: People who are overweight or obese have a higher chance of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Tobacco: The use of cigarettes, cigars, pipes or chewing tobacco has been linked to a higher likelihood of developing esophageal cancer. The risk increases with more frequent or prolonged use of tobacco products.
If you suspect that you or a loved one may have an elevated risk of esophageal cancer, please consult with a doctor on preventive and early detection measures that are available.
If you have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, find out more about becoming a patient or contact us at 800-826-HOPE.
Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute