In the News

Esophageal Cancer Risk 3-to-4 Times Greater for Men Than Women

Men are at 3-to-4 times greater risk of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer than women, according to Omer Khalil, M.D., a hematologist/oncologist with CARTI in Little Rock.

“There is good news and bad news when it comes to esophageal cancer, “ says Dr. Khalil.

With statistics from the American Cancer Society projecting more than 18,000 new cases of esophageal cancer to be diagnosed this year across the United States, April is annually observed as National Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month.

“The good news is that esophageal cancer is relatively uncommon in the United States,” says Dr. Khalil.  “The bad news is that because it is so uncommon, the lack of knowledge or even awareness about esophageal cancer can sometimes contribute to late stage diagnosis.”

Esophageal cancer is a disease that affects the tube running from the throat into the stomach responsible for delivering food and liquids into the digestive system.  The disease manifests in one of two types of cancers, either squamous cell carcinoma (generally affecting the upper areas of the esophagus) or adenocarcinoma (generally affecting the lower portion of the esophagus.)

“Because there is no universal screening for the disease, esophageal cancers are generally diagnosed at an advanced stage,” explains Dr. Khalil.  “Accordingly, survival rates for most esophageal cancers tend to be poor, and that’s why it is especially important that people are aware of the signs and symptoms of the disease so that they can take a proactive approach to their health when it comes to esophageal health issues.”

Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer can include:  trouble swallowing; hoarseness; constant coughing; hiccups; chest pain; unexplained weight loss; and pneumonia.  Another sign of potential esophageal cancer is internal bleeding revealed by dark or black stools, which can lead to low red blood levels resulting in feelings of fatigue or weakness.

Risk factors known to be associated with esophageal cancer are:  age; gender; chronic acid reflux or heartburn; tobacco and alcohol use; obesity; and diet.

The American Cancer Society reports that patients aged 65 or older tend to be at the greatest risk of developing esophageal cancer, with less than 15 percent of diagnosed cases found in patients aged 55 or younger.

“While we can’t say with any certainty that esophageal cancers can be prevented, paying attention to risk factors and applying a bit of common sense may at least lead to decreased risk,” says Dr. Khalil.

“For example, patients with a diet rich in fruits and vegetables seem to be at a lower risk, so a sensible diet and healthy lifestyle are certainly recommended,” says Dr. Khalil, citing reports from the American Cancer Society.

“Likewise, we see increased risk for patients with a history of excessive tobacco use – the longer the use, the greater the risk,” says Dr. Khalil.  “But, we have also seen that the risk seems to decrease once the use of tobacco stops, so common sense would suggest eliminating the tobacco use.”