About Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer forms in tissues lining the esophagus (the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach). Two types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that begins in flat cells lining the esophagus) and adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
Esophageal cancer is unique among the gastrointestinal tract malignancies because it embodies two distinct histopathologic types: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Which type of cancer occurs in a given patient or predominates in a given geographic area depends on many variables, including individual lifestyle, socioeconomic pressures, and environmental factors.
To learn more about outreach and awareness for esophageal cancer, please visit www.ecaware.org.
Prevalence of Esophageal Cancer
In the United States, 16,980 new cases are estimated to be identified in 2011, and over 14,710 patients expected to die of the disease. Importantly, incidence rates among white men continue to increase and now exceed 8 per 100,000 person-years, reflecting the marked increase in the incidence of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus of more than 400% in the past two decades. The rise of esophageal adenocarcinoma (especially in this population) is of epidemic proportions.
Early esophageal cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are: 
- Food gets stuck in the esophagus, and food may come back up
- Pain when swallowing
- Pain in the chest or back
- Weight loss
A hoarse voice or cough that doesn’t go away within 2 weeks
Studies have found the following risk factors for esophageal cancer: 
- Age 65 or older: Age is the main risk factor for esophageal cancer. The chance of getting this disease goes up as you get older. In the United States, most people are 65 years of age or older when they are diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
- Being male: In the United States, men are more than three times as likely as women to develop esophageal cancer.
- Smoking: People who smoke are more likely than people who don’t smoke to develop esophageal cancer.
- Heavy drinking: People who have more than 3 alcoholic drinks each day are more likely than people who don’t drink to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. Heavy drinkers. Heavy drinking: People who have more than 3 alcoholic drinks each day are more likely than people who don’t drink to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. Heavy drinkers
- Diet: Studies suggest that having a diet that’s low in fruits and vegetables may increase the risk of esophageal cancer. However, results from diet studies don’t always agree, and more research is needed to better understand how diet affects the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Obesity: Being obese increases the risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
- Acid reflux: Acid reflux is the abnormal backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. Reflux is very common. A symptom of reflux is heartburn, but some people don’t have symptoms. The stomach acid can damage the tissue of the esophagus. After many years of reflux, this tissue damage may lead to adenocarcinoma of the esophagus in some people.
- Barrett esophagus: Acid reflux may damage the esophagus and over time cause a condition known as Barrett esophagus. The cells in the lower part of the esophagus are abnormal.
Most people who have Barrett esophagus don’t know it. The presence of Barrett esophagus increases the risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. It’s a greater risk factor than acid reflux alone.