The American Cancer Society estimates that during 2007 approximately 15,560 new esophageal cancer cases will be diagnosed in the United States. This disease is 3 to 4 times more common among men than among women and about 50% more common among African Americans than among whites. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer of the esophagus among African Americans, while adenocarcinoma is more common in whites. Cancer of the esophagus is much more common in some other countries. For example, esophageal cancer rates in Iran, northern China, India, and southern Africa are 10 to 100 times higher than in the United States. The main type in these countries is squamous cell carcinoma.
In Western countries, the rate of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus in white men has been increasing at about 2% a year. The esophageal cancer rate has been unchanged in white women. The rate of esophageal cancer, mainly squamous cell, had been dropping in African American men and women.
The American Cancer Society estimates during 2007, 13,940 deaths from esophageal cancer will occur. Because esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage, most people with esophageal cancer eventually die of this disease. However, survival rates have been improving. During the early 1960s, only 4% of all white patients and 1% of all African-American patients survived at least 5 years after diagnosis. Now, 17% of white patients and 12% of African-American patients survive at least 5 years after diagnosis. These figures refer to patients with all stages of disease, so survival rates in earlier stage disease will be higher.
These survival rates are called relative survival rates. The 5-year survival rate refers to the percent of patients who live at least 5 years after their cancer is diagnosed. This includes people who die of other causes. Five-year relative survival rates assume that some people will die of other causes and compares the observed survival with that expected for people without the cancer. That means that relative survival only talks about deaths from the cancer in question. This is a more accurate way to describe the prognosis for patients with a particular type and stage of cancer. Five-year rates are used to produce a standard way to discuss prognosis, or outlook for survival.