Answers from an Expert: Esophageal Cancer

Blue anatomical model of esophageal cancer

New Brunswick, N.J., April 1, 2024  – Every time we eat or drink, our esophagus, an 8-inch muscular tube, plays a critical role in transporting food from our throats down to our stomachs for digestion. Esophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells begin to grow within the lining of the esophagus. Understanding more about this disease can help reduce your risk of esophageal cancer and enable you to identify it early. Benjamin Medina, MD, thoracic surgeon in the Lung/Thoracic Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and RWJBarnabas Health, answers common questions about esophageal cancer. 

What are the common risk factors for esophageal cancer?

There are two types of esophageal cancer:  adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma starts in gland cells at the bottom of the esophagus and squamous cell carcinoma arises from squamous cells that are primarily in the upper esophagus. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of esophageal cancer. Chronic acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s esophagus and chronic heartburn can increase your risk of developing adenocarcinoma esophageal cancer. Importantly, using any form of tobacco raises the risk of esophageal cancer. This includes cigarettes, cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco. 

Can esophageal cancer be prevented?

The risk of developing this disease can be greatly reduced by some lifestyle changes. The most important lifestyle changes to make include not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption. According to the American Cancer Society, obesity has been linked with esophageal cancer, particularly the adenocarcinoma type, so staying at a healthy weight may help limit the risk of this disease. Managing acid reflux can help lower the risk.

What type of treatments are available at an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center for patients with these types of cancers?

The specific treatment plan for each patient is determined by a multidisciplinary team of experts, which may include medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, and other specialists. Depending on the stage and location of the esophageal cancer, surgical options may include esophagectomy (removal of part or all of the esophagus), lymph node dissection, and reconstructive surgery to restore digestive function. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy or immunotherapy may also be treatment options, and researchers continue to investigate new methods to treat esophageal cancer. Patients also have access to ongoing clinical trials at Rutgers Cancer Institute, which are examining the use of chemoradiation coupled with immunotherapy. 

Rutgers Cancer Institute together with RWJBarnabas Health, the state’s leading cancer program and only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, offers the newest and most effective practices for diagnosing and treating pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions involving the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, rectum, pancreas, retroperitoneum, and other intra-abdominal organs.  Learn more by visiting

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