Rates of Esophageal Cancer Are Rising

Fastest Rising Form of Cancer in the U.S.

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on January 18, 2005
From the WebMD Archives

Jan. 18, 2005 -- The number of Americans diagnosed with a common form of esophageal cancer has increased sixfold over the last 25 years.

About half of the estimated 14,250 people diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2004 have a form of esophageal cancer called adenocarcinoma. The esophagus is the long, narrow tube that brings food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach.

Although esophageal adenocarcinoma is relatively uncommon, researchers say it is now the fastest growing form of cancer in the U.S., and its incidence is rising faster than breast cancer, prostate cancer, or melanoma.

Some had suspected that the rapid increase in esophageal cancer rates might be the result of improved screening and detection.

People with Barrett's esophagus, a condition in which abnormal cells develop from long-term acid reflux, are more likely to get this form of esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Rising Rapidly

In the study, which appears in the Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers found that from 1975 to 2001, the frequency of esophageal adenocarcinoma rose approximately sixfold in the U.S. from 4 to 23 cases per million people.

Researchers ruled out overdiagnosis as a potential cause of the increase.

In addition, the study showed that at the same time that this type of esophageal adenocarcinoma has increased by sixfold, the rate of deaths due to this form of esophageal cancer has grown by sevenfold, from 2 to 15 deaths per million people.

"Our results strongly indicate that the increase in esophageal adenocarcinoma represents a true increase in disease burden," write researcher Heiko Pohl of the VA Outcomes Group in White River Junction, Vt., and colleagues.

"To explain a rise of this magnitude, however, the prevalence of a strong risk factor must also rise dramatically ...," they write. "Such a risk factor has not yet been identified and defining it should be a priority."

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SOURCES: Pohl, H. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Jan. 19, 2005; vol 97: pp 142-146. News release, Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

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