Esophageal cancer rates in men have increased by 50 percent since the early 1980s, with new United Kingdom cases reaching almost 6,000, according to the latest figures which show that the number of men diagnosed with esophageal cancer has rapidly risen from around 2,700 cases three decades ago to 5,740 cases in 2012.

Given the changes in population size this equates to a 50 percent increase from 15 to 23 cases per 100,000 people. In women, the increase is much smaller with around 10 percent more now developing the disease compared to the 80s. Now 2,802 women are diagnosed with esophageal cancer.  Esophageal cancer rates in women for 2012 are 9 per 100,000. 

Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald, Cancer Research UK esophageal cancer expert at the University of Cambridge, said,“These new statistics show a continuing rise in esophageal cancer rates – especially in men. This is especially concerning as esophageal cancer can be notoriously hard to treat.

“The good news is we’re making great strides in the early detection of the disease. We’re developing a simple way to diagnose a group of people at high risk – those with Barrett’s esophagus – by asking them to swallow a sponge to test for the disease. If we can pick up Barrett’s esophagus in more people, it could mean we can stop the disease becoming cancer. Catching it early is absolutely critical to survival.”

To address the rising numbers of cases and boost research, Cancer Research UK is holding an International Symposium on Oesophageal Cancer at the University of Oxford this weekend. 

The latest figures also show that esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death in the UK – around 5,200 men died from the disease in 2012. Symptoms of esophageal cancer include persistent indigestion or heartburn, difficulty swallowing, food coming back up, and unexplained weight loss. It’s most likely not cancer, but it’s best to get these symptoms checked by a GP.

Dr Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said, “It’s worrying to see how rapidly the number of men getting esophageal cancer is rising. But there are many things people can do to help cut their chances of getting the disease. We know that almost 90 per cent of cases are preventable – stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, eating a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight will all help reduce your risk.”

For more information on the Cytosponge test: BEST-2: BEST-2 Trial is supported by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Cancer Research UK, Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC), Medical Research Council (MRC), NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer, and the University of Cambridge.