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Know the Facts: Esophageal Cancer

Know the Facts: Esophageal Cancer

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month. Know the facts about the causes and risk factors so that you can reduce your risk or identify symptoms early and get treated.

Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus, a hollow, muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach.

Men are about three times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer.

The lifetime risk of esophageal cancer in the United States is about 1 in 132 in men and about 1 in 455 in women.

Esophageal cancer makes up about 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.

The exact cause of most esophageal cancers is not known. However, there are certain risk factors that may increase the likelihood of esophageal cancer.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Smoking
  • Precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett's esophagus)
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol use
  • Difficulty swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that won't relax (achalasia)
  • A steady habit of drinking very hot liquids (temperatures of 149° F or 65° C - much hotter than a typical cup of coffee)
  • Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • Undergoing radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen

Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • Weight loss without trying
  • Chest pain, pressure or burning
  • Hoarseness or coughing
  • Indigestion or heartburn


  • National Cancer Institute
  • American Cancer Society
  • Mayo Clinic