Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal Cancer Awareness and Prevention

Appointment New Patient Appointment or 214-645-8300

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 – develops in the esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. 

Being aware of risk factors and symptoms of esophageal cancer can help patients receive an earlier diagnosis. UT Southwestern’s world-renowned esophageal cancer specialists offer the latest diagnostic techniques. 

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 include:

  • Tobacco use
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Age 65 or older
  • Male gender
  • Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Barrett’s esophagus 

Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Chest pain, pressure, or burning
  • Coughing or hoarseness
  • Unexplained 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, so patients should promptly contact their doctor if they experience any of these symptoms.


Esophageal cancer is usually found because of specific signs or symptoms patients are experiencing. Early detection and diagnosis of esophageal cancer will help our UT Southwestern Medical Center team determine the best course of treatment for each patient. Depending on the situation, diagnostic services might include:

Physical Examination and History

This visit includes a medical history to help the doctor understand possible risk factors and learn more about a patient’s symptoms.

During a physical examination, the doctor will pay special attention to the patient’s 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 can 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: This technology helps physicians visualize the location and extent of esophageal cancer.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This imaging technology 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 esophageal cancer, our physicians might 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 the esophageal cancer care team at UT Southwestern provide patients with the most appropriate, safest, and most individualized course of treatment.