Esophageal Cancer | Cancer


Esophageal Cancer

Cancer of the esophagus is a serious but treatable condition. Our experts offer advanced treatment and compassionate care.

Medically reviewed by David Tom Cooke, M.D. on Nov. 13, 2023.

Female doctor talking to male patient at a table in a medical office

What Is Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer is cancer that occurs in the esophagus. The esophagus is a hollow, muscular tube that moves food from your throat to your stomach. There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma (which originates in the esophagus lining) and adenocarcinoma (which begins in cells that make mucus).

At UC Davis Health, our esophageal cancer specialists have expertise in diagnosing and treating esophageal cancer. We offer the latest tests and the most advanced treatment options to relieve your symptoms.


Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

Early esophageal cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common signs are weight loss and difficult or even painful swallowing.

Common Symptoms

Possible signs of esophageal cancer include:

  • Weight loss
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Chronic pain in the chest or back
  • Heartburn
  • Food getting stuck in the esophagus
  • A hoarse voice or cough that lasts more than two weeks

Emergency Symptoms

Seek immediate care if you have any of the following:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Bleeding in your esophagus
  • Black stool

Causes of Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is often caused by chronic irritation in the esophagus which may cause cancer cells to grow. Irritation may be due to:

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Also known as acid reflux, GERD causes stomach acid to repeatedly enter your esophagus. This can cause irritation.

Barrett’s Esophagus

Over time, GERD can develop into Barrett’s esophagus. This condition causes the esophagus to thicken and turn red. Barrett’s esophagus is a risk factor for esophageal cancer.


Risk Factors of Esophageal Cancer

Anyone can develop esophageal cancer. The following factors may increase your risk:


You may face a higher risk if you are over age 55.

Human Papillomavirus Infection

A history of HPV can put you at a higher risk for developing esophageal cancer.


Having obesity can increase your risk for esophageal cancer.

Tobacco and Alcohol Use

Regular tobacco and alcohol use can increase your risk.


Diagnosing Esophageal Cancer

UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center has advanced imaging and diagnostic capabilities. Our specialists accurately detect esophageal cancer and start you on an effective treatment plan.

We will perform a medical exam and ask about your personal and family health history. We may run blood tests to check your red blood cell count and liver function to diagnose the condition. Both can indicate esophageal cancer.

We may also recommend imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans or an upper endoscopy to get a closer look at your esophagus.  

Treatments for Esophageal Cancer

The cancer team at UC Davis Health offers a full range of advanced treatment options for esophageal cancer. Our individualized treatment plans focus on the stage of your cancer and your symptoms. Your treatment may include:


We may do surgery to remove the cancer and surrounding tissues. In some cases, we may remove part of the esophagus. Surgery is often performed minimally invasively with robotic surgery.


We give you anti-cancer drugs injected into your vein or by mouth (with pills) to treat cancer cells throughout your body. Chemotherapy is often given with radiation therapy to increase its effectiveness.

Radiation Therapy

We use high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. We may combine radiation therapy with chemotherapy and surgery.


We use the latest immunotherapy approaches to treat many cancers, including esophageal cancer. This treatment uses your own immune system to destroy cancer cells.

Endoscopic Treatments

We may treat early stage esophageal cancers with endoscopic procedures that remove small tumors.


Preventing Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancers can’t always be prevented. But there are things you can do to greatly reduce your risk, such as:

Avoid Tobacco and Alcohol

Using tobacco products and alcohol raises the risk of esophageal cancer.

Stay at a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases your chance of getting esophageal cancer.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A diet full of fruits and vegetables may lower the risk of esophageal cancer.

Treat GERD or Barrett’s Esophagus

Both conditions increase the risk of getting esophageal cancer. Talk to your provider about your treatment options if you have received a GERD or Barrett’s esophagus diagnosis.

Men are

3xMore likely than women to get esophageal cancer


1%Of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with esophageal cancer

Source: American Cancer Society: Key Statistics for Esophageal Cancer

Request an Appointment

Our cancer specialists provide thorough evaluations and personalized treatment plans. Learn more about how to make an appointment at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center.



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