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Causes of oesophageal cancer

Who is more likely to get oesophageal cancer

It's not always clear what causes oesophageal cancer.

Anyone can get it, but you might be more at risk if you:

  • are over the age of 75 (it's not very common in people under 45)
  • are a man
  • have certain conditions, such as long-term, severe acid reflux (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease), or Barrett's oesophagus

Many oesophageal cancers are also linked to lifestyle. For example, you're more likely to get it if you're overweight, smoke or drink too much alcohol.

Barrett's oesophagus

Barrett's oesophagus is a condition where some of the cells in your oesophagus grow abnormally.

If you have Barrett's oesophagus you're slightly more likely to get oesophageal cancer. But this is not common. It's sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition.

Barrett’s oesophagus often does not have any symptoms. But you may have symptoms of indigestion and heartburn.


Find out more

How to reduce your chance of getting oesophageal cancer

You cannot always prevent oesophageal cancer. But making healthy changes can lower your chances of getting it.


  • try to lose weight if you're overweight

  • let hot drinks cool down a bit before drinking, so they do not damage your oesophagus

  • try to cut down on alcohol – avoid drinking more than 14 units a week

  • try to quit smoking


It's important to get any symptoms of oesophageal cancer checked by a GP.

Anyone can get oesophageal cancer, even if you do not think you have a higher chance of getting it.

Page last reviewed: 29 June 2023
Next review due: 29 June 2026