A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.

It is possible to develop esophageal cancer with or without the risk factors listed below. However, the more risk factors you have, the greater your likelihood of developing esophageal cancer. If you have a number of risk factors, ask your healthcare provider what you can do to reduce your risk.

Risk factors for esophageal cancer include the following:


]]>Alcohol]]> intake increases your risk of esophageal cancer by 10-25 times, depending upon the strength of the drink (beer less, whiskey more). Combined with smoking, the risks are multiplied.


Moderate smoking, by itself, does not greatly increase the risk of esophageal cancer, but it does promote many other diseases including several other cancers. ]]>Heavy smoking]]> , particularly of “black tobacco” (a term of interest primarily to pipe smokers), at least doubles your risk of esophageal cancer.

Alcohol and Smoking Combined

The combined effect of heavy alcohol consumption and black-tobacco smoke has been shown to multiply the risk of esophageal cancer by a 100 fold. Moderate alcohol intake combined with moderate tobacco use (of any kind) increase the risk 10-20 fold, whereas moderate use of either of these substances by itself does not affect risk statistics.

Ingestion of Irritants

Eating or drinking substances that can be directly damaging to the esophagus can increase the risk of esophageal cancer. Such irritants include the following:

  • Nitrosamines, which naturally occur in foods in many areas of the world where rates of esophageal cancer are high, such as Northern China
  • Drain cleaners or lye (the liquid obtained by leaching wood ashes), which may predate the development of cancer by as much as 40 years
  • Very hot beverages
  • Toxins in pickled vegetables

Environmental Irritants

Exposure to other esophageal irritants can also increase your risk. These include radiation and smoked ]]>opiates]]> (eg, an opium pipe).

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions can increase your risk of esophageal cancer.

]]>Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)]]> —This occurs when gastric acid, food, and liquid from the stomach chronically flow up into the esophagus. GERD causes a 40-fold increase in the risk of adenocarcinoma.

]]>Barrett’s esophagus]]> —Barrett’s esophagus occurs when the squamous cells in the lower esophagus are exposed to acid from the stomach due to acid reflux. The acid causes the cells to change from squamous cells, which are flat, to cells shaped like columns. These column-shaped cells are the hallmark of Barrett’s esophagus and can eventually become an adenocarcinoma.

]]>Achalasia]]> —This is a relatively rare disorder of the smooth muscle of the esophagus that makes it difficult for food and liquid to pass through the esophagus and into the stomach. Achalasia causes a 15-fold increase in cancer risk, most likely due to the irritation from food retained in the esophagus.

Nutrient deficiencies —Being deficient in ]]>folic acid]]> , vitamins A and C, and ]]>riboflavin]]> , molybdenum, and ]]>selenium]]> increases the risk of esophageal cancer.

]]>Obesity]]> —Obesity is associated with a higher risk of adenocarcinoma.

While a rare occurrence, ]]>Alendronate (Fosamax)]]> , a medication used to treat ]]>osteoporosis]]> , has been linked to esophageal cancer. ]]>]]>