Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

Risk factors for Esophageal Cancer

In the United States, screening for esophageal cancer is not recommended by any professional organization at this time; however, people who have a high risk of esophageal cancer are often followed closely to look for early cancers and pre-cancers.

The risk factors for esophageal cancer include the following:

  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Having Barrett’s Esophagus, a condition which may be caused by gastric reflux (heartburn, the backing up of stomach contents into the lower section of the esophagus) that may irritate the esophagus and, over time, cause Barrett’s esophagus
  • African-American men are more likely to develop esophageal cancer

If you are at a higher risk, it does not mean you will get esophageal cancer.  Also, not having risk factors doesn't mean you will never get cancer.

Screening tests for Esophageal Cancer

Our experts at Houston Methodist recommend people with a high risk of esophageal cancer have an upper endoscopy regularly. For this test, the doctor looks at the inside of the esophagus through a flexible lighted tube (an endoscope or esophagoscope) inserted through the mouth and may or may not take a small tissue sample (biopsy).

Esophageal cancer is rarely diagnosed in people without symptoms and is usually discovered because of tests done for other medical problems or due to screening.
Two common symptoms that would encourage a discussion with your physician regarding screening, include: 

  • Problems swallowing  — a feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest, or even choking on food
  • Weight loss — about half those with esophageal cancer lose weight even though they are not dieting