Esophageal Cancer On the Rise


The past 25 years have seen the rates of some cancers fall, thanks to better prevention efforts. During the same period, though, the frequency of some esophageal cancers rose dramatically. The cause of this increase remains a mystery, although important risk factors have been identified.

Understanding the causes of cancer

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Their names refer to different types of cells in the esophagus that turn into obesity — possibly causing a higher incidence of reflux, which is a risk factor for adenocarcinoma, according to Bains.

    Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

    Numerous factors increase the risk for esophageal cancer:

    • Age over 60
    • Male sex
    • Tobacco use
    • Alcohol use
    • Barrett’s esophagus (see below)
    • History of head or neck cancer
    • Frequent drinking of very hot beverages
    • acid reflux occurs frequently, though, the chronic irritation (GERD symptoms are those most likely to have Barrett’s esophagus and should undergo upper endoscopy.”

      Bains agrees: “Clearly a certain group with chronic reflux disease are at higher risk,” and should be screened with upper endoscopy.

      However, the National Cancer Institute recommends against screening asymptomatic people with endoscopy.

    Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

    Symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

    • Difficulty or pain with swallowing
    • Pain behind the breastbone
    • smoking will lower the risk for many cancers and other diseases, not just esophageal cancer
    • Limit alcohol to one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day for women
    • Eat a diet high in green and yellow vegetables, and a variety of fruits
    • Taking or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for other reasons may reduce the risk for esophageal cancer. Don’t start a new medicine without talking to your doctor.

    What about treating reflux symptoms? Since reflux and Barrett’s esophagus cause esophageal cancer, it seems likely that treating reflux symptoms would prevent esophageal cancer. Surprisingly, there is so far no proof of this.

    Nevertheless, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends:

    • Treatment of GERD symptoms, in the hope of preventing esophageal cancer;
    • Upper endoscopy in those with chronic GERD symptoms, and
    • Periodic upper endoscopy in those with Barrett’s esophagus.

    However, the National Cancer Institute recommends againstscreening the general population. Endoscopy can cause complications, and esophageal cancer is relatively rare. Screening everybody, they say, would probably create more problems than cures.