Causes and prevention of Oesophagus (gullet) cancer

The exact cause of oesophageal cancer is unknown. It is more common in men than women and happens in those over the age of 60. It is not inherited. Neither is it contagious and it cannot be passed from person to person. There are certain things that can increase your chance of getting the disease. These are called risk factors and include smoking, alcohol, obesity and some medical conditions.


Smoking is one of the major risk factors for oesophageal cancer. This includes smoking cigarettes, cigars and pipes.


If you are a heavy drinker over many years, you have a higher risk of getting oesophageal cancer. If you both smoke and drink, your risk is even higher.


If you are extremely overweight (obese), it can increase your risk of oesophageal cancer.

Acid reflux and Barrett´s oesophagus

Acid reflux (heartburn) can cause irritation to the oesophagus and lead to changes in the cells there. This condition is called Barrett's oesophagus. If you have this condition, you have a higher risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Acid reflux over many years can also increase your risk of oesophageal cancer, even if you do not have Barrett's oesophagus.


Achalasia is a very rare condition where the muscles in the oesophagus cannot relax and open after swallowing. People with achalasia have been known to develop oesophageal cancer.

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm