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Barrett's Esophagus

Early Treatment is Key to Resolving Esophageal Cancer

Are you at risk for esophageal cancer? No one really knows what causes esophageal cancer. We do know that long-term reflux (GERD) can cause changes in the cells in the lower end of the esophagus. This condition is called Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition. If these cells are left untreated, there is a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer due to these cancerous cells.

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

Risk factors are those factors that can increase the risk for esophageal cancer. Some risk factors can be controlled such as tobacco use and diet. Other risk factors cannot be controlled such as age and gender. Risk factors include the following:

  • Age: The risk for esophageal cancer increases with age, with people over the age of 60 being at greatest risk for developing esophageal cancer.
  • Alcohol use: Chronic and/or long-term heavy drinking is another major risk factor for esophageal cancer.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: Long-term irritation from reflux, commonly known as heartburn, changes the cells at the end of the esophagus. This condition is precancerous condition and raises the risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Diet: Diets low in fruits and vegetables, including certain vitamins and minerals, can increase the risk for esophageal cancer.
  • Gender: Men have three times the risk of developing esophageal cancer than women.
  • Medical history: Certain diseases increase the risk of esophageal cancer, including achalasia, a disease in which the bottom of the esophagus does not open to release food into the stomach, and a rare inherited disease called tylosis. In addition, anyone who has had other head and neck cancers has an increased chance of developing a second cancer in this area, which includes esophageal cancer.
  • Other irritants: Swallowing caustic irritants such as lye or other substances can burn and destroy cells in the esophagus. The scarring and damage done to the esophagus can put a person at greater risk for developing cancer.
  • Tobacco use: Using any form of tobacco raises the risk of esophageal cancer. The longer tobacco is used, the greater the risk - with the greatest risk among people who have indulged in long-term drinking with tobacco use. Scientists believe that these substances increase each other’s harmful effects, making people who drink and use tobacco especially susceptible to developing the disease.