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MAR 31st 2014

Esophageal Cancer Causes And Prevention Tips

MAR 31st 2014
Esophageal Cancer Causes And Prevention Tips

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month (periwinkle colored cancer ribbons), so now is a good time to learn some of the causes, risk factors and prevention tips for one of the rare types of cancer that killed Humphrey Bogart.

Bogart happens to be one of several classic film stars who died of cancer from heavy drinking and cigarette smoking. Many cases of mouth and throat cancers, as well as esophageal cancer, during that time period were related to excessive alcohol consumption and smoking.

These days, more people are developing esophageal cancer from obesity and digestive disease such as acid reflux. Overall, rates for this rare type of cancer in the U.S. have remained fairly steady. It used to be more common in African Americans – now, it’s slightly more common in whites.

According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 18,000 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed last year, and more than 15,000 of those patients died. Men are 3 to 4 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than women – about 1 in every 435 women gets esophageal cancer, as opposed to 1 in 125 men.

Also, you are more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer if you’re a male between the ages of 45 and 70.

What causes esophageal cancer?

Generally speaking, esophageal cancer develops after some type of chronic irritation to your esophagus (pictured).

esophageal cancer causes

Some of the common esophageal cancer causes and risk factors include:

  • Heavy alcohol drinking.
  • Tobacco product use (chewing or smoking).
  • Drinking a lot of hot liquids.
  • A diet low in fruits and vegetables.
  • Eating lye-preserved foods (like lutefisk and some olive recipes).
  • Obesity.
  • Acid or bile reflux conditions.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Precancerous changes in esophagus cells (like Barrett’s esophagus).
  • Radiation treatment to the upper abdomen or chest.
  • Trouble swallowing, due to a tightened esophageal sphincter (achalasia).

How can I prevent esophageal cancer?

Here are five cancer prevention tips to avoid this disease (and other esophageal conditions).

  1. Lose weight if you need to. Obesity is one of the top risk factors for esophageal cancer, so talk to your doctor and come up with a consistent diet and exercise plan.
  2. Sleep propped up. If you lie flat on your back, you have a greater chance of contracting acid reflux (stomach acid coming up and burning your throat is another cancer risk factor). Arrange your pillows to prop up your head and chest. Stomach acid can’t flow uphill.
  3. Don’t lie down after a meal. This might be the hardest one on the list. If you suffer from acid reflux, sadly, a nap after a big meal is not for you. If you lie down while you’re digesting food, the contents of your stomach can back up into your esophagus, making acid reflux and heartburn problems worse. Eat early so you’ve digested your food before bedtime.
  4. Take antacid pills. You can neutralize stomach acid before it backs up into your esophagus.
  5. Talk to your doctor and consider getting tested. Especially if you have a history of heartburn or indigestion. If you get an endoscopy and a biopsy early enough, esophageal cancer can be spotted and cured.

To learn more about this disease and other types of cancer, click here.

Talk to us in the comments! Do you have problems with acid reflux, indigestion or heartburn? What are you doing to stay healthy and prevent this disease during Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month? Please share your stories!

(Images via and WebMD.)