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Not all esophageal cancers can be prevented, but the risk of developing this disease can be greatly reduced by avoiding certain risk factors.
In the United States, the most important lifestyle risk factors for cancer of the esophagus are the use of tobacco and alcohol. Each of these factors alone increases the risk of esophageal cancer many times, and the risk is even greater if they are combined. Avoiding tobacco and alcohol is one of the best ways of limiting your risk of esophageal cancer. If you or someone you know would like to quit tobacco, call us at 1-800-227-2345 or see Stay Away from Tobacco.
Following a healthy eating pattern and staying at a healthy weight are also important. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may help lower esophageal cancer risk. Obesity has been linked with esophageal cancer, particularly the adenocarcinoma type, so staying at a healthy weight may also help limit the risk of this disease. Being physically active may also reduce your risk of esophageal cancer.
For more on this, read our American Cancer Society Guidelines for Diet and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.
Treating people with reflux may help prevent Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Often, reflux is treated with changes in diet and lifestyle (for example, weight loss for overweight individuals), as well as drugs called H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Surgery might also be an option for treating reflux if the reflux is not controlled with diet, lifestyle changes, and medicines.
People at a higher risk for esophageal cancer, such as those with Barrett’s esophagus, are often watched closely by their doctors with endoscopies to look for signs that the cells lining the esophagus have become more abnormal. (See Can Esophageal Cancer Be Found Early?) If dysplasia (a pre-cancerous condition) is found, the doctor may recommend treatments to keep it from developing into esophageal cancer.
For those who have Barrett’s esophagus, daily treatment with a PPI might lower the risk of developing cell changes (dysplasia) that can turn into cancer. If you have chronic heartburn (or reflux), tell your doctor. Treatment can often improve symptoms and might prevent future problems.
Some studies have found that the risk of cancer of the esophagus is lower in people with Barrett’s esophagus who take aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen. However, taking these drugs every day can lead to problems, such as kidney damage and bleeding in the stomach. For this reason, most doctors don’t advise that people take NSAIDs to try to prevent esophageal cancer. If you are thinking of taking an NSAID regularly, discuss the potential benefits and risks with your doctor first.
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Kahrilas PJ. Medical management of gastroesophageal reflux disease in adults. Talley NJ, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. https://www.uptodate.com (Accessed on January 23, 2020).
Rock CL, Thomson C, Gansler T, et al. American Cancer Society guideline for diet and physical activity for cancer prevention. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2020;70(4). doi:10.3322/caac.21591. Accessed at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.3322/caac.21591 on June 9, 2020.
Shaheen NJ, Falk GW, Iyer PG, Gerson LB; American College of Gastroenterology. ACG Clinical Guideline: Diagnosis and Management of Barrett's Esophagus. Am J Gastroenterol. 2016;111:30-50.
Spechler SJ. Barrett's esophagus: Epidemiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis. Talley NJ, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. https://www.uptodate.com (Accessed on January 23, 2020).
Last Revised: June 9, 2020
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