Causes and risk factors
Long-term acid reflux
Esophageal cancer seems to be more common in people who have acid reflux over a long period of time. This is caused when stomach acid flow back toward the esophagus. It can happen in people with conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Acid reflux can damage the esophagus and may lead to a condition called Barrett's esophagus. This happens when cells develop in an abnormal way on the lining of the lower esophagus. This condition is not cancer, though a small number of people (less than 1%) with Barrett's esophagus can end up developing cancer. It is known as a precancerous condition.
Esophageal cancer is more common in men than in women.
The risk of esophageal cancer increases with age. It is less common in people under the age of 45.
The chances of developing esophageal cancer increase when a person smokes, especially in heavy smokers. All types of tobacco are harmful, though cigarette smoking causes more damage than pipes.
Excess weight may increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer. This may be due to the fact that long-term acid reflux is more commonly seen in overweight people.
Heavy alcohol consumption over a long period of time increases the risk. People who smoke and drink may have a high risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Eating large quantities of red and processed meats (such as sausages and hamburgers) may increase the risk. Eating lots of fresh fruit and vegetables can help lower the risk.
Some evidence suggests that drinking very hot beverages may increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer. This is because hot drinks can damage the lining of the esophagus.
Previous cancer treatment
Radiotherapy in the area of the thorax can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, though this is not frequent.
Other rare medical conditions
Achalasia: This happens when the muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach doesn't relax properly. People with achalasia have a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Tylosis: A rare hereditary skin condition. People with tylosis have a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
In most people, esophageal cancer is not caused by an inherited faulty gene. Therefore, it is unlikely that their children will develop esophageal cancer if you have it.