Who Is Most at Risk for Esophageal Cancer?

Reviewed on 4/14/2021

Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer
A person who both smokes and consumes alcohol may be more at risk of getting esophageal cancer than the one who consumes either of it.

When cancer starts from the food pipe (esophagus), it is called esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer can affect anyone. But certain factors can increase one’s risk of getting it. These are known as risk factors. Some of these risk factors can be prevented and modified, while others cannot be controlled. Certain risk factors may add up to increase the person’s overall likelihood of getting esophageal cancer. For example, a person who both smokes and consumes alcohol may be more at risk of getting esophageal cancer than the one who consumes either of it.

People with the following risk factors are the most at risk for esophageal cancer.

Tobacco

Any form of tobacco usage can increase a person’s risk of esophageal cancer. This includes:

The cancer risk increases with the packs of cigarettes smoked and the length of time it has been used.

Alcohol

Alcohol drinking also raises a person’s odds of getting cancer. The chances increase with the amount of alcohol intake.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

The stomach makes acid, which helps in the digestion of food. If this acid along with the food moves up into the esophagus, the condition is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The affected person may experience a burning sensation in the middle of the chest, especially after a meal. The risk of esophageal cancer increases in people who suffer from GERD. It is more if the person exhibits the symptoms frequently.

Barrett’s esophagus

Barret’s esophagus is the formation of abnormal cells in the inner lining of the esophagus. This is caused by the reflux of stomach acid, such as due to GERD, into the esophagus for a long time. A person with Barret’s esophagus has a higher chance of falling prey to esophageal cancer than a person with GERD. However, in most people with Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal cancer does not develop.

The abnormal cells in Barrett’s esophagus can lead to dysplasia, a pre-cancerous condition. This can be observed under a microscope, and dysplasia can be graded from low grade to high grade depending on the extent of cell abnormalities.

Obesity

People who are overweight or obese (very overweight) are more likely to develop esophageal cancer than people with normal weight.

Other risk factors include:

Age

The risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age. Among all age groups, people between the ages of 45 and 70 have the greatest risk of esophageal cancer.

Gender

Men are three times more likely than women to get esophageal cancer.

Diet

Certain dietary factors can increase your chances of getting esophageal cancer.

  • High intake of processed meat
  • Lack of sufficient vitamins and minerals (from less consumption of fruits and vegetables)
  • Frequently drinking very hot liquids

Physical inactivity

People who resort to regular exercises have a lower risk of esophageal cancer.

Achalasia

Achalasia is the condition in which the muscular band at the lower end of the esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter or LES) fails to relax properly. This causes food particles to accumulate in the esophagus. The food particles irritate the esophagus resulting in the development of inflammation, which increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

Accidental ingestion of lye

Accidental ingestion of lye, which is commonly found in household cleaners, can injure the esophagus and result in its narrowing (stricture). People with strictures have higher chances of developing esophageal cancer.

History of certain other cancers

History of any of the cancers, such as lung cancer, mouth cancer, and throat cancer, increases a person’s risk of esophageal cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

HPV is a rare cause of esophageal cancer. Apart from esophageal cancer, it is linked to many types of cancers, including throat cancer, anal cancer, and cervical cancer.

Certain rare conditions can also raise a person’s chances of getting esophageal cancer. These include:

Tylosis

This is a rare, hereditary disorder that causes extra growth of skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It also increases the risk of esophageal cancer (particularly squamous cell cancer of the esophagus).

Plummer–Vinson syndrome

This is a rare condition in which webs of tissue develop in the upper parts of the esophagus.

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References
Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/esophagus-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/risk-factors.html

Esophageal Cancer: Risk Factors. https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/esophageal-cancer/risk-factors

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