Esophagus Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can cancer of the esophagus be prevented?

Not all esophageal cancers can be prevented, but you can greatly reduce the risk of getting this disease by avoiding certain risk factors.

Avoiding tobacco and alcohol

In the United States, the most important lifestyle risk factors for cancer of the esophagus are the use of tobacco and alcohol. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol is one of the best ways to limit your risk of esophagus cancer. If you or someone you know would like to quit tobacco or learn more about it, call us at 1-800-227-2345 or visit our Tobacco information page.

Watching your diet and body weight

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help protect against esophagus cancer. Being overweight has been linked with esophagus cancer, so staying at a healthy weight might also help limit your risk. For more on this, see our American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Getting treated for reflux or Barrett’s esophagus

Treating people with reflux may help prevent Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Often, reflux is treated using drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Surgery might also be a treatment option for reflux.

Doctors recommend that people at a higher risk for esophageal cancer, such as those with Barrett’s esophagus have certain tests to look for cell changes that may be a sign of cancer. Treatment with drugs or even surgery can improve symptoms and may prevent future problems.

Some studies have found that the cancer risk is lower in people with Barrett’s esophagus who take aspirin or related drugs, or who take drugs called statins (which are used to treat high cholesterol). But taking these drugs every day can have side effects, so most doctors don’t advise that people take these drugs to try to prevent cancer. If you are thinking of taking aspirin or another drug to try to lower your risk, be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor first.

Last Medical Review: 05/21/2014
Last Revised: 02/04/2016