There is no way to know for sure if you're going to get esophageal cancer. And there is no sure way to prevent it. Certain factors can make you more likely to get this type of cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. Here are the known risk factors for esophageal cancer. Tell your health care provider if you feel you may be at risk.
Using tobacco (cigarettes, chewing tobacco, pipes, etc.) and drinking alcohol are both risk factors for developing esophageal cancer. Together, they form the highest risk of getting esophageal cancer. Smoking and drinking are risk factors for other cancers too, such as cancers of the head, neck, and upper airways.
The risk for esophageal cancer goes up as you get older. Most cases are in people older than 55, but younger people can still develop esophageal cancer.
Men are 3 to 4 times more likely to get esophageal cancer than women.
If your esophagus is irritated for a long time, cancer is more likely to occur. Irritation happens when fluid from your stomach comes up into your lower esophagus. This problem is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Some esophageal cancer cases are related to GERD. Over time, the reflux may cause the cells in the esophagus to change. This condition is called Barrett's esophagus. In some cases, Barrett's esophagus leads to esophageal cancer. People with this condition are much more likely to develop esophageal cancer than someone without the condition.
People who are obese are at higher risk of the adenocarcinoma type of esophageal cancer. If you are a man who develops this type of cancer and you are obese, your risk of dying from the cancer is also higher compared with men who aren't overweight.
Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that may help prevent cancer, including cancer of the esophagus. If you eat few fruits or vegetables, you may have a deficiency of these vitamins and minerals. This could put you at greater risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Drinking very hot liquids frequently can increase your risk for some kinds of esophageal cancer.
These more rare factors may also lead to esophageal cancer:
I have achalasia. This rare disease affects the muscles of the esophagus. When the opening between the esophagus and the stomach is too tight, food does not pass easily into the stomach.
I have tylosis. This disease is inherited and changes the cells that line your palms, soles, and esophagus.
I have Plummer-Vinson syndrome. This syndrome is characterized by anemia, brittle fingernails, and esophageal irritation.
I have had other occurrences of head or neck cancer.