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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention of Esophageal Cancer

There is no clear indicator as to what causes esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer occurs when cells in your esophagus develop errors, known as mutations, in their DNA. These mutations make cells grow and divide out of control. These abnormal cells accumulate, forming a tumor in the esophagus that can grow to invade nearby areas of the body such as the aorta or spine. They can also metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body that may not be near the esophagus, such as the liver or lungs. 

Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

While the cause of esophageal cancer is uncertain, there are various factors that can increase your risk of developing the disease. These risk factors can include: 

  • Tobacco use
  • Having precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus)
  • Obesity 
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Excessive drinking of very hot liquids
  • Having acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Having difficulty swallowing due to achalasia, a condition where an esophageal sphincter won’t relax.
  • Undergoing radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen. 
  • Gender. Males are three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer compared to women. 

Preventing or Reducing Your Risk of Esophageal Cancer

To reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer: 

  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption
  • Increase the amount of fruits and vegetables in your diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
Compass Oncology - The US Oncology Network