Having HPV may increase your risk of some types of cancer, including esophageal cancer.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a leading cause of cervical cancer.

It can also lead to the development of other cancers, including throat cancers. HPV may also contribute to the development of esophageal cancer.

The esophagus is a tube that moves food from your throat to your stomach. In the United States, there are around 16,940 cases of esophageal cancer per year. Research suggests that having an HPV infection could increase your risk of esophageal cancer.

The cause of most cancers — including esophageal cancer — isn’t known yet. However, some factors increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Having an HPV infection is one of those risk factors.

Although it’s not entirely clear what causes esophageal cancer, if you have an HPV infection, you may be at a higher risk of developing the cancer.

HPV is also associated with oropharyngeal cancer, which is a cancer that affects the oropharynx. This includes the back of your throat, the base of your tongue, and your tonsils. Oropharyngeal cancer may spread to the esophagus and surrounding organs.

How common is an HPV infection in esophageal cancer?

According to a 2014 review of studies, 22.2% of people who develop esophageal cancer have high risk HPV, a strain of HPV associated with cancer.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that HPV causes 22.2% of all esophageal cancer cases. Other factors may contribute to the development of cancer.

What strain of HPV is associated with esophageal cancer?

HPV 16 is the HPV strain that is most strongly associated with esophageal cancer. The 2014 study mentioned above found that 11.4% of people with esophageal cancer have HPV 16.

Symptoms don’t necessarily change depending on whether you have an HPV infection or not, and the strains of cancer-causing HPV don’t usually cause other noticeable symptoms.

The symptoms of HPV-positive esophageal cancer include:

  • chronic chest pain
  • coughing or hoarseness
  • fatigue
  • food coming back up the esophagus
  • frequently choking while eating
  • heartburn
  • hiccups
  • indigestion
  • vomiting

Early symptoms of esophageal cancer

You may experience few to no symptoms in the early stages of esophageal cancer.

However, the earliest symptoms you notice may include:

  • chronic chest pain
  • coughing or hoarseness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • unintentional weight loss

If you suspect you may have esophageal cancer, it’s best to speak with your doctor so that they can provide a diagnosis and treatment if necessary.

If the cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of your body, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the cancerous tumors.

Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy or radiation therapy that can kill or reduce the size of the tumors. Once the tumors become smaller, it’s much easier to remove them through surgery.

Another treatment for esophageal cancer is targeted therapy. Targeted therapy medications could be given as pills or intravenously, meaning through a vein. These drugs work by specifically attacking cancer cells.

You may also have to make certain lifestyle changes to improve your chances of survival. It’s advisable to quit smoking (if you smoke) and reduce or eliminate your consumption of alcohol (if you drink).

Survival rate of esophageal cancer

The National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database notes that the 5-year relative survival rate for people with esophageal cancer is 21.7%.

This means that 21.7% of people with esophageal cancer are as likely to survive for at least 5 years as people without the condition.

The esophageal cancer survival rate will depend on the stage of the cancer. The more progressed the cancer is, the lower the survival rate.

According to SEER, the 5-year survival rates of esophageal cancer by stage are as follows:

  • Localized (cancer only found in the esophagus): 48.8%
  • Regional (cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes): 27.7%
  • Distant (cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes far from the esophagus): 5.6%

The effect of HPV infection on esophageal cancer survival rate is unclear.

One 2016 review, for instance, looked at the survival rate for HPV-related esophageal cancer. The study suggests that people with esophageal cancer who also have HPV 16 might have a “significantly favorable survival” rate compared with people with esophageal cancer who did not have an HPV 16 infection.

However, another small study found that people with esophageal cancer with HPV infection had a lower survival rate. Extensive research will help us understand the relationship between HPV infection and esophageal cancer survival rates.

There’s no sure way to prevent esophageal cancer altogether. However, certain lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of developing esophageal cancer.

Try to:

  • Limit or avoid tobacco (if you smoke or consume it), including cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol (if you drink alcohol).
  • Eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.

You can reduce your chances of getting HPV by using condoms for oral sex. It’s important to use condoms or other barrier methods like dental dams for oral sex. Avoiding using them increases the risk of oral HPV infection, which may cause cancer in the throat and esophagus.

An HPV vaccine can drastically reduce your risk of HPV infection, including oral HPV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most people ages 45 years or under are eligible for the vaccine. Speak with your doctor about how and when to get the vaccine.

HPV can increase your risk of developing certain cancers, including esophageal cancer. If you have the symptoms of esophageal cancer, it’s worth speaking with a doctor, especially if you have or have had an HPV infection.

A number of effective treatments are available for esophageal cancer, and your chances of survival increase if you receive the diagnosis and treatment early. Certain lifestyle changes may help reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer.