by Scholten A

A risk factor is something that raises a person's chances of getting a disease or health problem. A person can have esophageal cancer with or without the risks below. The more risks a person has, the greater the chances are.

Esophageal cancer is more common in men than in women. A family history of this cancer also raises the risk. It is also more common in people 50 years old and up. However, people can get it at any age.

Other things that may raise the risk are:

Tobacco Use

Smoking and chewing tobacco have cancer-causing agents (carcinogens). They cause irritation and changes to cells in the esophagus. The risk is higher the more a person uses tobacco and the longer they use it. The risk drops once the person stops using tobacco.


Alcohol irritates the esophagus. Using alcohol for a long time can lead to esophageal cancer.

Alcohol and Tobacco Combined

Some people use both alcohol and tobacco. This raises their risk for esophageal cancer even more. Their risk may be three times higher than those who use alcohol or tobacco alone.


Esophageal cancer is linked to diets high in red meat. This may include processed meats. The risk is also higher in people who drink very hot fluids.

Environmental Exposures

Exposure to certain things can harm the esophagus and raise the risk of cancer. Examples are:

  • Harsh chemicals like drain cleaners or lye
  • Certain chemicals that are inhaled at work—such as those used in dry cleaning
  • Radiation therapy—aimed at the belly or chest

Medical Conditions

Current or past health problems that may raise the risk of esophageal cancer are:


Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed March 15, 2021.

Esophageal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: Accessed March 15, 2021.

Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at Accessed March 15, 2021.

General information about esophageal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed March 15, 2021.

Short MW, Burgers KG, et al. Esophageal Cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(1):22-28.

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