Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors and More

Issues with reflux? Male over the age of 50? April is National Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, and this type of cancer affects about 17,000 people per year. Risk factors can also include obesity, family history, heavy alcohol or tobacco use and occurrence of a hiatal hernia.

“Chronic reflux (GERD) is the best symptom we have to guide us toward an esophageal cancer screening,” said Dmitry Shuster, MD, of Springfield Clinic. “However, it is important to realize that 40 percent of esophageal cancer cases occur in patients without GERD. Seeing your doctor and assessing other risk factors are all critical in preventing this aggressive disease.”

There are two main types of esophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the squamous cells of the lining of the esophagus in the middle part. It is sometimes called epidermoid carcinoma. This type of esophageal cancer is more prominent in African Americans, and people who smoke or drink alcohol in excess.
  • Adenocarcinoma occurs in the glandular cells in the lining of the esophagus in the lower part. Adenocarcinoma is more common in Caucasians and individuals who have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What is GERD?

Many people who have frequent heartburn do not realize they have GERD. Although GERD is manageable through diet, lifestyle changes and medication, without treatment, the condition can change the lining of the esophagus. This change results in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.

What is Barrett’s esophagus? 

Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-cancerous condition in which the lining of the esophagus changes to a lining similar to the intestine. People who have Barrett’s esophagus may develop esophageal adenocarcinoma. An endoscopy of the upper gastrointestinal tract and biopsy is usually done to diagnose the condition.

Do I need screening for GERD, Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer? 

If you are concerned about your risk of developing GERD, Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer, speak with your primary care provider. Your doctor may refer you and recommend a screening at your local hospital: