Esophageal Cancer Information

In 2013, there were an estimated 18,000 new cases of esophageal cancer, with15,000 resulting deaths in the United States. Though it is not as common as lung or breast cancers, cases of esophageal cancer have risen over the past 25 years in the US. This particular type of cancer is 3-4 times more prevalent in men as it is in women. And though numbers aren’t astronomical in America, rates of esophageal cancer are 10-100 times higher in other countries.


Adenocarcinoma (AC)- AC cancer of the esophagus is the most common type of esophageal cancer in America. In 2013, an estimated 12,000 people were diagnosed with this form of the disease. With this type of cancer, tumors are usually found in the lower parts of the esophagus, near the stomach.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)- SCC cancer of the esophagus is the second most common type of esophageal cancer in the United States. Approximately 6,000 people were diagnosed with this type of cancer in the US in 2013. Though adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is the most prevalent in America, squamous cell carcinoma is the leading type of esophageal cancer in other countries. Typically, SCC tumors are found in the upper part of the esophagus.


Most cases of esophageal cancers are found because of the symptoms they present. However, many people don’t have any symptoms until the cancer is at a more advanced stage. Symptoms may include:

  • Trouble swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Severe weight loss
  • Chronic cough
  • Esophageal bleeding

Risk Factors

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)- GERD is caused when acid escapes from the stomach and travels back up into the esophagus. Symptoms of GERD may include heartburn or pain in the center of the chest. However, those with GERD may not display any symptoms at all. Those with GERD have an elevated risk of developing AC of the esophagus. The risk increases based on how long the reflux lasted and the severity of the disease.

Barrett’s Esophagus- Barrett’s Esophagus is another leading risk factor for developing esophageal cancer. This condition is a result of long-term exposure to stomach acid. Over time, the acid damages the lining of the esophagus. Cells that normally line the esophagus are replaced by gland cells, which are much more resistant to the damage that stomach acid can cause. Those with Barrett’s Esophagus are at an elevated risk for developing AC of the esophagus, because the gland cells lining the esophagus can become abnormal and malignant over time.

Tobacco and Alcohol- The use of tobacco and alcohol are major risk factors for developing esophageal cancer. Someone who smokes a pack of cigarettes a day is twice as likely to develop AC of the esophagus as a non-smoker. SCC of the esophagus is more closely linked to alcohol abuse. The risk for developing both types of cancer increases if smoking and alcohol abuse are combined.


Currently there are no screening tests recommended for the general public, but experts may recommend screening for those who are at high risk for developing esophageal cancer. Individuals with Barrett’s Esophagus should have routine upper endoscopy exams. Their physician may also perform a biopsy to test for cell dysplasia or abnormalities.

Though there are many risk factors for developing esophageal cancer, having any of these risk factors does not guarantee that a person will develop this disease. If you or a loved one has any of these risk factors, or believe that you are at an elevated risk for developing esophageal cancer, consult your physician about screening options available to you.


American Cancer Society

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