Five Things to Know About Esophageal Cancer

February 3, 2020

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Nabil P. Rizk, M.D. contributes to topics such as Cancer Care, Thoracic Surgery.

Finding and treating esophageal cancer before it has spread greatly enhances a person’s chance for survival. Recent statistics from the American Cancer Society show that a person whose esophageal cancer has not spread has a 47 percent chance of surviving five years. However, if it has metastasized, the five-year survival rate decreases to only five percent.

Nabil Rizk, M.D., a thoracic surgeon at Hackensack University Medical Center, has dedicated much of his career to treating esophageal cancer. From his perspective, here are five things you need to know about esophageal cancer:

  1. The reason most people who will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer see a doctor is because of swallowing difficulties.
  2. There is no regular screening for esophageal cancer like there is for lung cancer, colon cancer and breast cancer. At times it can be found if the patient is getting an endoscopy for another reason.
  3. By the time most patients see a doctor, the tumor has about 90 percent of the esophageal opening blocked. By this time, the cancer may have spread through the esophageal wall and to other areas of the body.
  4. Historically, esophageal cancers were squamous cell type (occurring in the thin squamous cells that line the esophagus), and were attributed to smoking and heavy drinking that irritated those cells. Over the last 40 years, the most common type has become adenocarcinoma (cancer forming in the mucous-forming gland cells), often attributed to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This form now accounts for about 80 percent of newly diagnosed esophageal cancers. While there is no definite agreement on the causes of this cancer, it is often attributed to acid reflux, medications or diet.
  5. The sooner in development esophageal cancer is diagnosed, the more likely the patient is to have a positive outcome.

Next Steps & Resources:

  • Learn how Hackensack Meridian Health uses the latest research and applies specialty training to provide the most comprehensive treatment of thoracic cancers.
  • Dr. Rizk practices in Hackensack. To make an appointment, call 551-996-5960.


The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.