Reducing your risk for esophageal cancer

You may lower your risk of developing esophageal cancer by doing the following.

Live tobacco-free

The best way to lower your risk for esophageal cancer is to avoid all forms of tobacco, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco.

If you use tobacco, get help to quit. Quitting reduces your risk of esophageal cancer.

Limit alcohol

Drinking alcohol increases your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Drinking alcohol together with smoking tobacco increases the risk of esophageal and other head and neck cancers more than doing either one alone. To reduce your cancer risk, it's best not to drink alcohol. Canada's Guidance on Alcohol and Health outlines the health risks of alcohol and can help you make an informed decision on whether you drink and how much.

If you choose to drink alcohol, keep your cancer risk as low as possible by having no more than 2 standard drinks a week. The less alcohol you drink, the lower your cancer risk.

Find out more about how to limit alcohol.

Avoid chewing betel quid or areca nut

Not chewing betel quid or areca nut lowers your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Get treated for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

GERD is a disorder in which the contents of the stomach (including stomach acid) back up, or reflux, into the esophagus. It may cause heartburn and is linked with the development of a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus increases your risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.

Further study is needed to find out if using surgery or medicines to treat GERD will lower the risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. People with symptoms of GERD should discuss a follow-up plan with their doctor.

Maintain a healthy body weight

Research shows that being overweight or obese increases your risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. You can lower your risk by having a healthy body weight. Eating well and being physically active can help you have a healthy body weight.

Avoid drinking very hot beverages

Drinking very hot beverages, such as hot coffee, tea and maté, increases your risk of esophageal cancer. Let your beverages cool down to lower than 65°C before you drink them.

Limit the amount of red and processed meats you eat

Diets that are high in processed meats may increase the risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the esophagus. Avoiding processed meats may help reduce your risk.

Eat vegetables and fruit

Choose to have more vegetables and fruit in your diet. There is some evidence that eating a healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruit may lower your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Follow Health Canada’s Food Guide.

Move more, sit less

Studies have shown that physical activity may lower the risk of esophageal cancer.

Find out if you’re at high risk for esophageal cancer

Some people can have a higher than average risk for esophageal cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often to check for esophageal cancer. Your doctor will recommend what tests you should have and how often you should have them.

More information about preventing cancer

Learn what you can do to prevent cancer.

Expert review and references

  • Blot WJ and Tarone RE . Esophageal cancer. Thun MJ (ed.). Schottenfeld and Fraumeni Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 4th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2018: 30:579-592.
  • Castro C. Peleteiro B, Lunet N . Modifiable factors and esophageal cancer: a systematic review of published meta-analyses. Journal of Gastroenterology. 2018.
  • Loomis D, Guyton KZ, Grosse Y, Lauby-Secretan B, El Ghissassi F, Bouvard V, et al . Carcinogenicity of drinking coffee, mate, and very hot beverages. Lancet Oncology. 2016.
  • National Cancer Institute. Esophageal Cancer Prevention (PDQ) Health Professional Version. 2018.
  • World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research . Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Oesophageal Cancer . 2016 .

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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