A benign esophageal cell papilloma is a small, noncancerous tumor that forms in the esophagus. Most do not cause symptoms. Doctors treat the growth by removing it.

A papilloma is a benign (noncancerous) tumor. It typically forms in squamous cells that line many of your body’s tissues.

A papilloma can form in many areas of the body, such as the skin, genital tract, and mouth. The esophagus, the muscular tube that transports food from your mouth to your stomach, is another part of the body where a papilloma can occur.

This article looks at esophageal squamous cell papillomas, including symptoms, potential causes, and how they’re treated.

Benign esophageal squamous cell papillomas (ESPs) are tumors that form in the squamous cells of your esophagus. These growths are typically small, white or pink, and wart-like in appearance.

Benign ESPs range from about 2–6 millimeters (0.07–0.23 inches) and typically occur in the lower part of the esophagus. About 85% of the time, only one papilloma is present.

Benign ESPs are rare. Researchers have estimated they are found in 0.01–0.45% of people undergoing an endoscopy of the upper digestive tract.

However, there’s some evidence that the chance of benign ESPs is increasing. One 2017 study observed the risk of ESPs increased from 0.13% in 2000 to 0.57% in 2013.

Benign ESPs are not cancerous. However, researchers have detected human papillomavirus (HPV) in some benign ESPs. This has raised concerns they may have the potential to become malignant, or cancerous.

Many benign ESPs don’t cause any symptoms. Doctors often diagnose them incidentally during an endoscopy of the upper digestive tract.

When a benign ESP becomes large, it can be associated with heartburn-like discomfort or trouble swallowing.

The exact cause of a benign ESP isn’t known. However, researchers have some ideas.

One theory is that benign ESPs develop from chronic irritation of the esophagus, such as from acid reflux. This helps explain why most benign ESPs happen in the lower esophagus, which is most affected by the effects of reflux.

In addition to acid reflux, other potential causes of irritation that may lead to benign ESP formation include:

Another potential cause of benign ESP is HPV infection. HPV is a virus that can cause warts on the skin and genitals. It has been associated with several types of cancer.

Benign ESP has also been associated with rare genetic conditions, specifically Goltz syndrome.

Most people with benign ESP receive a diagnosis in their 40s and 50s. The ratio of males to females affected by benign ESP is variable.

A short procedure can remove or destroy benign ESPs. The chosen technique depends on the size, number, and location of the benign ESPs.

Some techniques a doctor may use to treat benign ESP include:

Because benign ESP is rare, little is known about long-term outcomes and a person’s outlook.

However, researchers in a 2023 study note that in most previous studies, there was no recurrence after benign ESP removal.

One concern about benign ESP is that it has the potential to become cancerous. For example, a 2015 study including 78 people with benign ESP found that two individuals developed squamous cell carcinoma during the follow-up period.

The cancer potential of benign ESP is still controversial. Additionally, it’s also possible that other risk factors for esophageal cancer, such as smoking and heavy alcohol use, may play more of a role.

Overall, more research is needed.

Benign ESP is a rare wart-like growth that can form in the esophagus. When a benign ESP becomes large, it can cause symptoms like discomfort and difficulty swallowing.

The cause of benign ESP isn’t known. It may occur due to factors like chronic irritation in the esophagus or HPV infection.

Benign ESP can be destroyed or removed. It’s unlikely to come back after treatment. While some cases of cancer have been associated with benign ESP, the exact likelihood of these growths becoming cancerous is still unclear.