Esophageal cancer


This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Esophageal cancer is a complex disease that develops when cancer forms in the esophagus, which is the hollow, muscular tube connecting the throat to the stomach. This type of cancer is rare, accounting for only about 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States. But several factors increase the risk of developing this type of cancer, including alcohol and tobacco use, obesity and persistent acid reflux. The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is trouble swallowing, or dysphagia, which occurs when the cancer grows and the opening to the esophagus gets smaller.

No esophageal cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

At City of Hope, we target esophageal tumors with advanced treatments and technology. And our supportive care clinicians are also available to help you manage the side effects of treatment, so you are better able to maintain your strength, stamina and quality of life throughout treatment.

Explore esophageal cancer treatment options at City of Hope in Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix.

Who gets esophageal cancer?

The risk for developing esophageal cancer increases with age, and men are three to four times more likely than women to be diagnosed with the disease. People who are obese or who drink or smoke excessively, especially in combination, are also more likely to develop esophageal cancer.

People with certain conditions are also at higher risk. These conditions include:

  • GERD
  • Barrett's esophagus
  • Achalasia
  • Tylosis
  • Esophageal webs

Esophageal cancer is rare, accounting for 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 22,370 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2024. The disease accounts for more than 2 percent (more than 16,000) of cancer deaths each year in the United States.

What causes esophageal cancer?

Researchers believe esophageal cancer may develop from damaged DNA in the cells that line the esophagus. The DNA damage is frequently caused by long-term irritants, such as chronic tobacco or alcohol use.

Other factors that may lead to esophageal cancer include:

  • Obesity
  • Conditions like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett's esophagus and achalasia
  • A diet low in fruits, vegetables and certain vitamins and minerals

It takes just one call to get expert cancer treatment at City of Hope

At City of Hope, our multidisciplinary team of board-certified medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists and gastroenterologists treat all stages of esophageal cancer. We recognize that diseases of the GI tract, including esophageal cancer, require specialized treatment. That’s why each of our hospitals has developed a GI Cancer Center, focused specifically on cancers of the gastrointestinal tract, with the experience to help you navigate the complexities of choosing a treatment plan tailored to your needs.

Explore the cards below to learn more about our GI Cancer Centers at a hospital near you. If you need to travel for your care, our travel and accommodations team handles the details of your visit, including helping to coordinate travel and lodging arrangements.

Supportive care

Treatments for esophageal cancer may cause a number of side effects that impact your ability to function normally, impairing your quality of life. Depending on the treatment and your individual experience, these may include pain, nausea, insomnia, malnutrition and/or neuropathy. We recognize that treating the cancer is only part of the battle. That’s why we also offer a range of supportive therapies to help you manage cancer-related side effects. For esophageal patients, these may include:

Explore supportive care