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Cancer Snapshots: Disease Focused and Other Snapshots

  • Posted: 12/02/2013

A Snapshot of Esophageal Cancer

Incidence and Mortality

Esophageal cancer consists of two primary types, adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is more common in the United States. Men of all racial and ethnic groups have higher esophageal cancer incidence and mortality rates than women. Historically, African-American men have had higher esophageal cancer incidence and mortality rates than white men; however, increasing rates in white men and a steady decline among African-American men in the past decade have reversed this trend. A downward trend in mortality has not been observed for any other racial/ethnic group.

Risk factors for esophageal cancer include tobacco use, alcohol use, Barrett esophagus, gastric reflux, and increasing age. Common signs of esophageal cancer include painful or difficult swallowing and weight loss. There are no standard or routine screening tests for esophageal cancer. Tests and procedures used to detect and diagnose esophageal cancer include a physical exam, chest x-ray, and a barium swallow test. Standard treatment options for esophageal cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, laser therapy, electrocoagulation, or targeted therapy.

It is estimated that approximately $1.3 billion1 is spent in the United States each year on esophageal cancer treatment.

Line graphs showing U.S. Esophageal Cancer Incidence and mortality per 100,000, by race and gender, between 1990-2010.  In 2010, white males have the highest incidence, followed by African American males, African American females, and white females. In 2010, white males have the highest mortality, followed by African-American males, African American females, and white females.

Examples of NCI Activities Relevant to Esophageal Cancer

Selected Advances in Esophageal Cancer Research

Pie chart of NCI Esophageal Cancer Research Portfolio.  Percentage of total dollars by scientific area.  Fiscal year 2012.  Biology, 19%.  Etiology/causes of cancer, 9%.  Prevention, 9%.  Early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, 37%.  Treatment, 15%.  Cancer control, survivorship, and outcomes research, 8%.  Scientific model systems, 3%.
  • In a prospective cohort study of people diagnosed with Barrett esophagus, increasing age and smoking history were associated with risk of progression to esophageal adenocarcinoma, whereas there were no associations with alcohol use or body mass index. Published January 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Gene expression profiles in esophageal adenocarcinoma revealed a gene signature that was strongly associated with overall survival after resection. Published February 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • Potential biomarkers for the progression of precancerous Barrett esophagus to esophageal adenocarcinoma have been identified. Published March 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • At one institution, esophageal cancer patients who were treated with chemoradiotherapy and who were obese did not have poorer disease outcomes or worse postoperative morbidity than those who were not obese. Published April 2013. [PubMed Abstract]
  • See this PubMed list of selected free full-text journal articles on NCI-supported research relevant to esophageal cancer. You can also search PubMed for additional scientific articles or to complete a search tutorial.

Trends in NCI Funding for Esophageal Cancer Research

The National Cancer Institute's (NCI) investment2 in esophageal cancer research increased from $22.4 million in fiscal year (FY) 2008 to $33.0 million in FY 2011 before decreasing to $28.0 million in FY 2012. In addition to this funding, NCI supported $6.0 million in esophageal cancer research in FY 2009 and FY 2010 using funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Bar graph of NCI Esophageal Cancer Research Investment in 2008-2012: Fiscal year (FY) 2008, $22.4 million Esophageal Cancer Funding of $4.83 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2009, $28.8 million Esophageal Cancer Funding of $4.97 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2010, $30.5 million Esophageal Cancer Funding of $5.10 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2011, $33.0 million Esophageal Cancer Funding of $5.06 billion Total NCI Budget. FY 2012, $28.0 million Esophageal Cancer Funding of $5.07 billion Total NCI Budget.

Additional Resources for Esophageal Cancer

What You Need To Know About™ Cancer of the Esophagus
Describes treatment options, types of cancer doctors, second opinion, follow-up care, and sources of support for someone recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Home Page
NCI's gateway for information about esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)
Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of esophageal cancer.

Clinical Trials for Esophageal Cancer


  • 1 Cancer Trends Progress Report, in 2010 dollars.
  • 2 The estimated NCI investment is based on funding associated with a broad range of peer-reviewed scientific activities. For additional information on research planning and budgeting at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), see About NIH.

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