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Who is at risk for developing esophageal cancer?

Randall Holcombe, MD
Hematology & Oncology

Smoking and alcohol are known to increase the risk for esophageal cancer. Also, patients with a long standing history of gastric reflux (GERD) can also be at increased risk.

There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.

Squamous cell cancers occur most commonly in individuals who smoke cigarettes, use tobacco products and drink alcohol. In addition, African Americans are also at increased risk of developing this type of cancer. This cancer is also very common in many areas in Asia. The frequency of squamous cell cancer of the esophagus in the United States has remained the same.

Another cancer, adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, occurs most commonly in people with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). It is also very common in Caucasian males with increased body weight. Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is increasing in frequency in the United States. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn, a condition that 20 percent of American adults experience at least twice a week. Although these individuals are at increased risk of developing esophageal cancer, the vast majority of them will never develop it. In a few patients with GERD (about 10 to 15 percent of patients), a change in the lining of the esophagus develops near the area where the esophagus and stomach join. When this happens, the condition is called Barrett's esophagus. Doctors believe that most cases of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus begin in Barrett's esophagus.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.