OHSU

What are the Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer?

Some things that can increase your risk of esophageal cancer include:

  • Older age

    Most people in the U.S. with esophageal cancer are 65 or older.

  • Gender

    Men are three times more likely to get esophageal cancer.

  • Smoking and other tobacco use

    Smoking and using other forms of tobacco increases your risk of esophageal cancer. The longer you use tobacco, the greater your risk. People who use tobacco and drink alcohol for many years have the highest esophageal cancer risk. Scientists believe alcohol and tobacco increase each other's harmful effects.

  • Drinking alcohol

    Having more than three alcoholic drinks a day puts you at high risk for esophageal cancer.

  • Having Barrett's esophagus

    Barrett’s esophagus is a condition that develops when you have acid reflux (heartburn) for a long time. It changes the cells at the bottom of the esophagus, near the stomach. Barrett’s esophagus is a precancerous condition that increases the risk of one type of esophageal cancer.

  • Eating an unhealthy diet

    Diets that are low in fruits, vegetables and certain vitamins and minerals can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

  • Swallowing irritating substances

    Some substances, such as lye, can burn and destroy cells in the esophagus. Lye is in some cleaning products and children might drink it by mistake. The scarring and damage can increase the risk of esophageal cancer later.

  • Having certain diseases

    Certain diseases increase the risk of esophageal cancer. These include achalasia, a disease in which the bottom of the esophagus does not open to let food into the stomach, and tylosis, a rare inherited disease. Having other head or neck cancer also increases your risk of esophageal cancer.

  • Obesity

    Being very overweight increases your risk of esophageal cancer.

  • Having acid reflux

    This condition can cause Barrett’s esophagus, which increases your risk of getting esophageal cancer.

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