Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the esophagus, a hollow tube that carries food and liquirds  from the throat to the stomach. Esophageal cancer usually begins in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus and most often occurs in the lower portion of the esophagus. It is more common in men than in women. Individuals who are at greater risk of developing esophageal cancer are those who smoke, drink heavily or have acid reflux. Treatment options are available to help cure or slow the progression of the cancer.



Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Pain when swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Chest/back pain
  • Heartburn
  • Hoarse voice or severe cough

Early esophageal cancer typically causes no signs or symptoms



Although the cause remains unknown, esophageal cancer occurs when cells in the esophagus develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. The errors cause cells to grow out of control, in turn forming a tumor in the esophagus that can grow to invade nearby areas of the body. Esophageal cancer is categorized by the type of cells that are involved. Types of esophageal cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that occurs most often in the lower portion of the esophagus. It begins in the cells of the mucus secreting glands in the esophagus
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that occurs most often in the middle portion of the esophagus. The squamous cells are flat, thin cells that line the surface of the esophagus.
  • Other rare types of cancer:  Choriocarcinoma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma and small cell cancer.


Risk factors

Factors that can increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer include the following:

  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Acid reflux
  • Poor diet of fruits and vegetables
  • Being overweight
  • Achalasia
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Undergoing radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen



As esophageal cancer progresses, it can cause complications, such as:

  • Severe pain
  • Bleeding in the esophagus
  • Obstruction of the esophagus (Inability to pass foods through the esophagus)



A few recommendations for reducing the risk of developing esophageal cancer include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Maintaining a healthy weight and diet