Esophageal Cancer

Am Fam Physician. 2017 Jan 1;95(1):22-28.


Esophageal cancer has a poor prognosis and high mortality rate, with an estimated 16,910 new cases and 15,910 deaths projected in 2016 in the United States. Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma account for more than 95% of esophageal cancers. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in nonindustrialized countries, and important risk factors include smoking, alcohol use, and achalasia. Adenocarcinoma is the predominant esophageal cancer in developed nations, and important risk factors include chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, obesity, and smoking. Dysphagia alone or with unintentional weight loss is the most common presenting symptom, although esophageal cancer is often asymptomatic in early stages. Physicians should have a low threshold for evaluation with endoscopy if any symptoms are present. If cancer is confirmed, integrated positron emission tomography and computed tomography should be used for initial staging. If no distant metastases are found, endoscopic ultrasonography should be performed to determine tumor depth and evaluate for nodal involvement. Localized tumors can be treated with endoscopic mucosal resection, whereas regional tumors are treated with esophagectomy, neoadjuvant chemotherapy, chemoradiotherapy, or a combination of modalities. Nonresectable tumors or tumors with distant metastases are treated with palliative interventions. Specific prevention strategies have not been proven, and there are no recommendations for esophageal cancer screening.

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / diagnostic imaging
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / pathology
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Esophagus / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • United States