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Nearly 17,000 people in the U.S. will develop esophageal cancer this year, according to estimates from The American Cancer Society. [1] Sadly, the 5-year survival rate for people with esophageal cancer is about 18.4%. [2] Because esophageal cancer doesn’t always present with symptoms right away, it’s important to know the signs if they do occur, along with what causes the disease, and how to treat.

Causes of Esophageal Cancer

What causes esophageal cancer isn’t entirely clear, but doctors suggest some factors and behaviors have shown an increased risk of developing the disease. For example, men are more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women. [1] Those with reflux or reflux-related conditions are also at higher risk. Using tobacco and alcohol also put you at a higher risk for developing the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are the primary risk factors for developing esophageal cancer:

  • Drinking alcohol
  • Having bile reflux
  • Having difficulty swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that won’t relax (achalasia)
  • Drinking very hot liquids
  • Eating few fruits and vegetables
  • Having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Being obese
  • Having precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus)
  • Undergoing radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen
  • Smoking [3]

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

We usually discover esophageal cancer because of the symptoms patients show. One of the most common symptoms of esophageal cancer is difficulty swallowing—called dysphagia. Swallowing becomes increasingly difficult over time. Patients may also present with chest pain described as pressure or burning in the chest. Weight loss, hoarseness, chronic cough, and esophageal bleeding may also be signs of the disease.

Esophageal Cancer Treatment Options

Treatment for esophageal cancer depends on the stage of cancer and extent to which it has spread. Surgery is one of the main options, where part of the esophagus and surrounding tissue is removed. Radiation and chemotherapy are also options. Some treatments can alleviate symptoms, but are not expected to cure the cancer. [4]



  1. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/esophagus-cancer/about/key-statistics.html
  2. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/esoph.html
  3. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/esophageal-cancer/basics/risk-factors/con-20034316
  4. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/esophagus-cancer/treating.html