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Risk Factors

The causes of oesophageal cancer are not fully understood, but it is thought that there are a number of risk factors and conditions that, if present for any length of time, may lead to oesophageal cancer. These include the following:

  • Diet

High intake of smoked and preserved foods increases risk. Fresh fruit and vegetables have a lower increased risk.

Fizzy soft drinks.

Regularly consuming very hot drinks or food.

Vitamins and other nutritional deficiencies.

  • Repeated episodes of reflux and heartburn or indigestion. Barretts oesophagus increases the risk of 10/100,000 to 250/100,000. Barretts oesophagus with dysplasia increases the risk to 1500/100,00.

  • Smoking - If you smoke, the risk increases 18 fold.

  • Alcohol - If you drink substantially, the risk increases 5 fold. If you smoke and drink the risk increases 44 fold.

  • Obesity

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) - Recently links have been made to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and oesophageal cancer.

  • Age - Oesophageal cancer is most common over the age of 35, but can occur at any age.

  • Gender - oesophageal cancer is more prevalent in males than females.

  • It is also thought that genes may play a role in the incidence of oesophageal cancer, however this is not a certainty and is still being researched.


There are also conditions that are considered precursors to oesophageal cancer. Having the below conditions does not mean that you will certainly develop oesophageal cancer, however it has been found that people diagnosed with oesophageal cancer generally have at least one of the following conditions:


Barrett’s oesophagus: A condition caused by repeated episodes of reflux that results in changes to the usual cell lining of the oesophagus, which can result in adenocarcinoma).


Chronic reflux disease: if you have been regularly experiencing reflux at least twice a week, then this is classified as chronic reflux. Please see a doctor and ask for tests. It is better for a doctor to have knowledge of your chronic reflux earlier rather than later.


Achalasia: A condition where the muscles of the lower oesophageal sphincter (the ‘valve’ that controls food passing from the oesophagus to the stomach) can’t relax properly and so food builds up in the oesophagus and doesn’t pass to the stomach. Also, the normal waves of muscle contractions that propel food down the oesophagus don’t work properly, also adding to the build-up of food.

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