Esophageal Cancer Prevention

Last Editorial Review: 1/5/2006

Doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another doesn't. However, scientists have studied general patterns of cancer in the population to learn what things around us and what things we do in our lives may increase our chance of developing cancer.

Anything that increases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor; anything that decreases a person's chance of developing a disease is called a protective factor. Some of the risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. For example, although you can choose to quit smoking, you cannot choose which genes you have inherited from your parents. Both smoking and inheriting specific genes could be considered risk factors for certain kinds of cancer, but only smoking can be avoided. Prevention means avoiding the risk factors and increasing the protective factors that can be controlled so that the chance of developing cancer decreases.

Although many risk factors can be avoided, it is important to keep in mind that avoiding risk factors does not guarantee that you will not get cancer. Also, most people with a particular risk factor for cancer do not actually get the disease. Some people are more sensitive than others are to factors that can cause cancer. Talk to your doctor about methods of preventing cancer that might be effective for you.

Purposes of this summary on esophageal cancer prevention

The purposes of this summary on prevention of esophageal cancer are to:

  • Give information on esophageal cancer and how often it occurs.
  • Describe esophageal cancer prevention methods.
  • Give current facts about which people or groups of people would most likely be helped by following esophageal cancer prevention methods.

You can talk to your doctor or health care professional about cancer prevention methods and whether they would be likely to help you.

Esophageal Cancer Prevention

Esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus, the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach. Most esophageal cancers are either adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Both types of cancer are found in the tissue that lines the inside of the esophagus. Squamous cell cancers occur in the upper part of the esophagus near the throat and adenocarcinomas occur in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach.

Significance of esophageal cancer

The number of new cases of squamous cell cancers of the esophagus is declining. African American males are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus than are white males. The risk of this type of cancer increases with age for all racial/ethnic groups.

The number of new cases of esophageal adenocarcinomas has risen over the past 2 decades. It has become more prevalent than squamous cell cancer of the esophagus in the United States and Western Europe.

Esophageal cancer prevention

The following risk factors and preventive factors may affect whether a person develops esophageal cancer:

  • Tobacco and Alcohol : Squamous cell cancer of the esophagus is strongly associated with tobacco and alcohol use. Studies have shown that avoiding tobacco and alcohol decreases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Diet: A diet with plenty of green and yellow fruits and vegetables and cruciferous vegetables (such as cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) may lower the risk of developing squamous cell cancer of the esophagus.
  • Nonsteroidal Antiinflammatory Drugs: Some studies have shown that the use of nonsteroidal anti-Inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin and other drugs that reduce fever, swelling, pain, and redness) is associated with a reduced risk of developing both squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Helicobacter Pylori Infection and Gastric Atrophy: Infection with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria causes inflammation and ulcers in the stomach lining, which may lead to a condition called gastric atrophy (cells that line the stomach are destroyed). This condition may increase the risk of developing squamous cell cancer of the esophagus.
  • Gastric Reflux and Barrett's Esophagus: Gastric reflux (the backing up of stomach contents into the lower section of the esophagus) may irritate the esophagus and, over time, cause Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the cells lining the lower part of the esophagus have changed or been replaced with abnormal cells that could lead to adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. It is not known if surgery or other medical treatment to stop gastric reflux will reduce the risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.

Source: National Cancer Institute,


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