The esophagus is the tubular muscle that facilitates swallowing and connects the mouth to the stomach.

The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 22,000 new cases of esophageal cancer diagnosed this year, and more than half of those will result in death.

As April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, our team of thoracic surgeons are eager to educate people on the risk factors and often subtle signs that can be hard to detect associated with this serious disease. 

GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a common risk factor that contributes to esophageal cancer.

What is GERD?

 GERD is a common condition that occurs when stomach acid flows upwards into the esophagus and causes reflux or irritation. This irritation can make it painful to eat, drink and swallow. If left untreated, the acid can permanently damage the lining of the esophagus and lead to lesions which may turn cancerous.

GERD can often be successfully treated with changes to diet and/or medication.

Those who have GERD may have a higher risk of developing cancer or another condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus that can contribute to esophageal cancer as well.

Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors

In addition to GERD and Barrett’s Esophagus, some other common risk factors that can lead to esophageal cancer are:

  • Advanced age
  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • History of other cancers (such as mouth, lung, or stomach)
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection

Esophageal cancer symptoms can sometimes be hard to detect, as they are similar to those of many other illnesses and conditions, like:

  • Sore throat or difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Sharp chest pains

If you have signs of esophageal cancer and subscribe to one of the key risk factors, speak to your physician about getting an evaluation right away. Esophageal cancer is diagnosed by imaging tests such as barium swallow (a test which illuminates the esophagus lining so it can be more closely examined) or endoscopy (a direct look in the esophagus that allows for biopsy of anything that looks irregular).

How is esophageal cancer treated?

Early detection is key to the best outcome and successful treatment of esophageal cancer.

Once diagnosed, endoscopic surgery can be performed to remove the cancerous lesions or tumors. If larger sections of the esophagus are affected, a procedure called an esophagectomy will be done to remove the cancerous parts and establish a new route to connect what is remaining of the esophagus to the stomach. Chemotherapy and radiation are often used in conjunction with surgery to treat esophageal cancer.

Our thoracic surgeons at CTVS are skilled at using the most advanced technologies available, like robotic surgery, to treat esophageal cancer.  Our thoracic specialists will always work closely with your gastrointestinal and oncology teams to create the best plan of action for your treatment and recovery. 

For questions about any of our vascular, cardiac, or thoracic services, please visit or call us at (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment.

Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook and Instagram and check our blog for regular updates.