A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. However, knowing your risk factors and talking about them with Dr. Sanjay Sharma may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer:

  • Tobacco : Using any form of tobacco – including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff-raises the risk of esophageal cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Alcohol : Heavy drinking over a long period of time increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, especially when combined with tobacco use.
  • Barrett’s esophagus : This condition can develop in some people who have chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or inflammation of the esophagus called esophagitis, even when a person does not have symptoms of chronic heartburn. Damage to the lining of the esophagus causes the squamous cells in the lining of the esophagus to turn into glandular tissue. People with Barrett’s esophagus are more likely to develop adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, but the risk of developing esophageal cancer is still fairly low.
  • Diet / nutrition : A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables and certain vitamins and minerals can increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Obesity : Being severely overweight and having too much body fat can increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.
  • Lye : Children who have accidently swallowed lye have an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma. Lye can be found in some cleaning products, such as drain cleaners.
  • Achalasia : Achalasia, a condition when the lower muscular ring of the esophagus does not relax during swallowing of food, increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) : There are different types, or strains, of HPV, and some strains are more strongly linked with certain types of cancers. Researchers are investigating HPV as a risk factor for esophageal cancer, but there is no clear link that squamous cell esophageal cancer is related to HPV infection.