A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as family history or genetics. Fortunately, many risk factors can be modified.
Tobacco use is the biggest risk factor associated with esophageal cancer. People who smoke and drink carry an even higher risk than doing one or the other alone. All forms of smoking, including opioid drugs, introduces a variety of harmful chemicals into your body. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner your body can start to heal.
Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation
Excess alcohol intake is also associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. Adding smoking to excess alcohol intake multiplies the risk of esophageal cancer. If you drink, aim for moderation. Moderation is a maximum of one drink per day for women and a maximum of two drinks per day for men.
Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble controlling how much you drink.
Eat a Healthful Diet
There is evidence to support eating a healthful diet to reduce your risk of esophageal and many other types of cancer. In general, aim for a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and dietary fiber, and fewer servings of dairy, processed foods, and red meat. Good nutrition supports your body's immune system and can help maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid drinking hot beverages right away. Allow them to cool down for a short period of time.
Regular physical activity has many benefits. It reduces the risk of many cancers and helps with overall well-being. Aim for at least 30 minutes of regular exercise on most days of the week. The higher the amount of physical activity the greater the reduction in risk.
Manage Occupational Exposures
Chemical exposure can occur in many different jobs. If possible, try to find work in a different environment. If it is unavoidable, take steps to protect yourself from inhaling harmful chemicals. Check with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health or the Environmental Protection Agency about any available protective guidelines.
Manage Environmental Exposures
Irritation caused by external substances can also increase the risk of cancer. The irritants may be inhaled or intentionally delivered.
Previous radiation exposure can cause problems, but is not always avoidable. Radiation accumulates in the body over the course of a lifetime. Talk to your doctor or dentist about the risks and benefits of any radiation exposure.
Avoid inhalation of harsh, burning chemicals like lye or drain cleaner. Keep chemicals in clearly marked containers and locked away, especially if you have children.
Manage Health Conditions
If you have any health conditions that put you at a high risk of esophageal cancer, be sure to follow your treatment plan. High risk conditions may include:
- Barrett’s esophagus —Your doctor may advise that you have regular endoscopy tests to watch for changes that may indicate cancer.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease —Take any medications as prescribed, even if you are feeling well and have no symptoms.
- Obesity —If you need help making a weight loss plan, consult with a registered dietitian.
- Achalasia —Take any medications as prescribed, even if you are feeling well and have no symptoms.
- Nutritional deficiencies—Talk to a registered dietitian about eating a balanced diet. This may include supplements for any deficiencies that need to be corrected.
Talk to Your Doctor About the Benefits of Aspirin
Some studies have found a link between aspirin use and reduced rates of esophageal cancer. Since taking aspirin can have side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding, talk to your doctor before starting any aspirin therapy.
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Last reviewed February 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD Last Updated: 3/10/2021