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Esophageal Cancer Risks and Prevention

There are risk factors that can increase the chance of developing cancer. Having a risk factor, or even several, does not mean that someone will get cancer. There are different kinds of risk factors.

Some risk factors for cancer, like age and family history, cannot be prevented. If you feel you are at risk, you may benefit from consulting with a risk assessment specialist within Penn's Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk Evaluation Program.

Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

Researchers believe chronic irritation of the esophagus may affect esophageal tissue and put some people at higher risk for developing esophageal cancer.

Some other risk factors include:

  • Alcohol use
  • Tobacco use
  • Barrett's esophagus (see below)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables
  • Obesity
  • African Americans (greater risk for developing squamous cell esophageal cancer)
  • Caucasians (greater risk for developing adenocarcinoma)
  • Overall, men are about three times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer

Barrett's Esophagus

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus is damaged by stomach acid. Barrett's esophagus is the body's way of repairing the damage and this may increase the risk for developing esophageal cancer.

People diagnosed with Barrett's should be monitored for precancerous cells in the lining of the esophagus. If precancerous cells are found, they can be treated endoscopically to help prevent cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Prevention

The risk of esophageal cancer may be lowered by making several lifestyle changes:

  • Limiting or eliminating alcohol use: Moderate or no consumption of alcohol can decrease the risk of developing cancer.
  • Eliminating tobacco use: Smoking or chewing tobacco can increase the risk of developing cancer. Patients can get help to stop smoking through Penn Medicine's Lung Center or through a smoking cessation research program at the Abramson Cancer Center.
  • Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables: This includes fruits and vegetables that are green and yellow, and cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight: Research has shown that obesity is a risk factor for developing esophageal cancer. A physician can help patients learn strategies to lose weight.

Esophageal Cancer Risk Assessment

If you are interested in determining your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer, Penn Medicine offers a Gastrointestinal Cancer Risk Evaluation Program. This program offers knowledge about the presence of genetic risk factors for cancer and provides important, sometimes life-saving options.