Risk Factors

There are many risk factors associated with the development of esophageal cancer.  The following factors are more prominent than others.

  • Smoking and alcohol play a major role in the development of many cancers and are the key risk factors in the development of squamous carcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is thought to be the cause of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. In a recent study, patients who had GERD more than three times per week for over 20 years were 20 times more likely to develop this type of esophageal cancer.

Exactly how chronic GERD leads to the development of an esophageal cancer is still being researched, but what we know at the present time is that once food has emptied into the stomach, it is mixed with enzymes, acids from the stomach and bile from the gall bladder.

If stomach contents reflux or regurgitate back into the esophagus, the surface lining can be damaged by one or all of these contents. The normal squamous lining becomes damaged and over time is replaced by specialized cells to protect the esophagus. These specialized cells are referred to as Barrett's esophagus and are more prone to become cancerous.

The precise risk of developing adenocarcinoma in patients with Barrett's esophagus is unknown.  However, estimates indicate the lifetime risk falls somewhere between 30 to 125 times that of the general population.

(For related information see Barrett's Esophagus, GERD and Hiatal Hernia)

Understanding the Disease
The Esophagus
Types of Esophageal Cancer