Obesity and Cancer of the Esophagus

Obesity is associated with a higher risk of several cancers, including cancer of the thyroid, colon, kidney, liver, gall bladder, pancreas and uterus. But the strongest association between obesity and cancer is with the esophagus. 

The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects your mouth with your stomach. It is made of skin-like cells and your saliva and liquid intake are its’ only lubrication for swallowing. 

Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcoholic beverages are major causes of esophageal cancer. Now we need to add obesity too. While general obesity contributes to this risk, abdominal obesity – typically seen in men – is especially risky. 

Nearly 17,000 new cases of esophagus cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year, with 75% occurring in men. Cancer of the esophagus is the 7th leading cause of male death, and its treatment is not highly effective. The 5-year survival rate for even the most treatable localized cancer is 37%, and once it has spread the 5-year survival is only 3%. 

Large scientific studies conducted in the United States, Europe, and Australia have all demonstrated a strong correlation between obesity and cancer of the esophagus. There is a 70% increased risk for those in the overweight category (BMI 25-29) compared to normal weight individuals. The risk of esophagus cancer for obese men (BMI >30) is 160% higher and for obese women 110% higher than normal weight people. For obese individuals with a BMI >35 the risk is 200% higher.

Gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a likely mechanism explaining the association between abdominal fat and esophageal cancer. Research shows that individuals who are obese and have symptoms of GERD have a considerably increased risk of developing cancer of the esophagus. However obese people are here at risk for cancer of the esophagus even if they have no symptoms of GERD. This suggests that GERD and obesity are both independent risk factors for developing this cancer.

These facts provide potent motivation for making sure your weight is normal and healthy. Ask God for the strength to help you control your appetite and overcome the obesity that is increasing your risk of developing cancer.


  1. American Cancer Society, Cancer Facts and Figures 2011, Atlanta, 2011 
  2. Medscape Internal Medicine https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/743475