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Esophageal Cancer Prevention and Screening

Cancer screening exams are important medical tests done when you’re at risk but don’t have symptoms. They help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for successful treatment are best. Unfortunately, no standardized screening tests have been shown to improve esophageal cancer outcomes. However, here at MD Anderson, we’re working to develop screening tests for those at risk.

If you have frequent heartburn, speak to your doctor about tests that may help find esophageal cancer early. MD Anderson recommends an endoscopy if you have heartburn that:

  • Happens once a week or more
  • Lasts more than five years
  • Is not relieved by medicine
  • Suddenly goes away; this may reflect a change in the lining of the esophagus

Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting esophageal cancer is a risk factor. Long-term heartburn or reflux is a factor in half of esophageal cancers. Other risk factors include:

  • Long-term history of smoking: Half of squamous cell esophageal cancers involve smoking. Smoking also increases the risk of adenocarcinoma.
  • Drinking too much alcohol, especially if you smoke
  • Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which chronic acid reflux causes changes in the cells lining the lower esophagus
  • Age: Most cases of esophageal cancer are in people over 55
  • Gender: Men are three times more likely to develop esophageal cancer
  • Achalasia, a disease in which the sphincter, or muscle, at the bottom of the esophagus fails to open and move food into the stomach
  • Tylosis, a rare, inherited disorder that causes excess skin to grow on the soles of the feet and palms. It has a near 100% chance of developing into esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal webs: These flaps of tissue protrude into the esophagus, making swallowing difficult
  • Lye ingestion or being around dry-cleaning chemicals
  • Diet and weight: Risk is higher if you are overweight, tend to overeat or do not eat a healthy diet
  • History of other squamous cell cancers related to tobacco use

Not everyone with risk factors gets esophageal cancer. However, if you have risk factors, you should discuss them with your doctor.

If you have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, we’re here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Innovative esophageal cancer treatments including proton therapy, minimally invasive surgery, photodynamic therapy and targeted therapies
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection for early stage disease
  • One of the most-active programs in the country
  • Advanced diagnostic tools including video endoscopy
  • Clinical trials of new therapies

Esophageal Cancer Knowledge Center

Treatment at MD Anderson

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Esophageal Cancer Prevention

The best thing you can do to prevent esophageal cancer is to not smoke. It also is important to not drink too much alcohol. Read more about MD Anderson’s smoking cessation clinical trials.

If you have reflux, talk to your doctor about treatment. It may help prevent future problems.

Research shows that many cancers can be prevented. Visit the Prevention section of our website to find out steps you can take to avoid cancer.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center