Esophageal Cancer Awareness & Prevention

Approximately 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed annually in the U.S. The disease – which occurs about four times as often in men as it does in women – arises in the esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

The clinicians at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center deliver an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing and treating esophageal cancer.

Risk Factors, Signs, and Symptoms

The two most common types of esophageal cancer are:

  • Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells of mucus-secreting glands and is often found near the stomach
  • Squamous cell carcinoma arises in the cells that line the esophagus and is usually found near the top of the esophagus

Because early esophageal cancer typically causes no signs or symptoms, patients should be aware of the risk factors for the disease. These may include:

  • Smoking
  • Heavy drinking
  • Age 65 or older
  • Being male
  • Acid reflux
  • A diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus

Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Chest pain, pressure, or burning
  • Coughing or hoarseness
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Persistent or worsening indigestion or heartburn

Esophageal cancer is more likely to be treated successfully when it is caught in its early stages. If you experience symptoms of esophageal cancer – particularly if you are at risk for the disease – contact your doctor promptly.


Esophageal cancer is usually found because of specific signs or symptoms you may be experiencing. Early detection and diagnosis of esophageal cancer will help your UT Southwestern Medical Center team determine the best course of treatment for you.

If your doctor suspects that you have esophageal cancer, he or she will conduct exams and tests to confirm the diagnosis. Further tests may be needed to help determine the extent of the cancer.

Physical Examination and History

Your UT Southwestern cancer specialist will first ask you about your medical history. This will help the doctor check for possible risk factors and learn more about your symptoms.

Your specialist will also conduct a physical examination, paying special attention to your neck and chest, to look for possible signs of esophageal cancer and other health problems.

Sophisticated Imaging

UT Southwestern’s radiology experts use the most advanced imaging techniques to help diagnose esophageal cancer.

These imaging modalities may include:

Barium swallow (barium esophagography)
The use of this chalky liquid in combination with X-rays can help physicians determine the cause of swallowing problems.
Contrast enhanced or multidetector computed tomography (CT) scan
CT technology helps physicians visualize the location and extent of esophageal cancer.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
MRI helps physicians identify suspicious areas that could indicate esophageal cancer and learn if, and how far, it has spread.
Positron emission tomography (PET)
Cancer cells absorb large amounts of radioactive sugar that are used in this technique, and a special camera creates images of that radioactivity, enabling physicians to identify cancerous cells in the esophagus.
Endoscopic ultrasonography
This technology maps sound waves to show physicians how deeply cancer has grown into the esophagus.

Other Diagnostic Tests

To get a more detailed understanding of your esophageal cancer, our physicians may use additional diagnostic techniques that include:

  • Esophagoscopy, a type of endoscopy that uses a lighted lens at the end of a thin tube to closely examine the esophagus
  • Biopsy, a small tissue sample removed from suspected trouble spots for in-depth analysis by pathologists

Together, these diagnostic tools will help your esophageal cancer care team at UT Southwestern provide you with the most appropriate, safest, and individualized course of treatment.

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with an esophageal cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.