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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What causes oesophageal cancer?

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  • 1

    Thanks

    Dr Salena Ward

    Bariatric (Obesity) Surgeon, General Surgeon, Upper GI Surgeon (Abdominal)

    I am a specialist Upper Gastrointestinal (gut) Surgeon, who performs surgery for weight loss, tumours of stomach and oesophagus, reflux, hiatus hernia and gallstones. I … View Profile

    If we knew what causes each cancer, we would win the Nobel Prize.  Unfortunately the causes of cancer are probably multifactorial and the evolution of cancer can be complicated.

    When we talk about causes of cancer (or lots of other medical conditions) we talk more about risk factors; things ‘associated with’ a higher risk of developing that cancer.

    The more common ‘risk factors’ for oesophageal cancer are:
    Reflux (acid reflux up into oesophagus, if untreated and/or occurred for many years)
    Barrett's oesophagus (a change in the lining of the lower oesophagus, which may be a precancerous change, which we associate with long-standing reflux; this could be seen and biopsied on an upper gut endoscopy / gastroscopy (camera into oesophagus & stomach))
    Smoking
    Excessive alcohol
    Obesity
    More common in males than females (but does occur not infrequently in both sexes)
    Older age

    Less common ‘risk factors’ for oesophageal cancer are:
    Caustic injury to oesophagus
    Achalasia (tight muscle at bottom of oesophagus causing build up of food and fluid in oesophagus longer term)
    Diet high in nitrosamines (some diet/food in Asian countries is higher in nitrosamines, and this is thought to be a possible reason why there is a higher chance of getting oesophageal and stomach cancer in countries like China and Japan).

    Possible risk factors postulated by some people to cause oesophageal cancer:
    Drinking hot liquids
    Poor diet (low in fruit and vegetables)
    Family history (many cancers can have a family history, although there is not a recognised ‘syndrome’ to run in families for oesophageal cancer)

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