06/04/2012 10:49 am ET Updated Jun 04, 2012

Richard Dawson Esophageal Cancer: What Is The Disease 'Family Feud' Host Died From?

Beloved former "Family Feud" host Richard Dawson passed away this weekend from complications from esophageal cancer, according to news reports.

Dawson, 79, died at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the Associated Press reported.

"He was surrounded by his family. He was an amazing talent, a loving husband, a great dad and a doting grandfather," his son, Gary Dawson, wrote, USA Today reported.

Esophageal cancer occurs in the esophagus, the tube that carries food to the stomach. While there was no immediate information on the cancer complications Dawson faced, the Mayo Clinic reported that common complications include pain, bleeding, weight loss, obstructions of the esophagus (thereby making it difficult to eat or drink), and coughing, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Pneumonia can also be a complication, "because a tumor is blocking the esophagus and forcing food and liquid down the windpipe," thereby leading to aspiration pneumonia, which is lung infection due to breathing in of a foreign substance, Everyday Health reported. Writer Christopher Hitchens died of pneumonia, as a complication of esophageal cancer, in December of last year.

This year, there are expected to be 17,460 new cases of esophageal cancer in the United States, and 15,070 deaths from the disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

There are two main types: squamous cell carcinoma, which starts in the flat cells that line the esophagus and is linked with smoking and alcohol; and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, which starts in cells that create and release mucus and other bodily fluid, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Imaging tests, including MRI, CT and PET scans, are often used to diagnose esophageal cancer. The treatment of choice is surgery if the cancer has not yet spread, though chemotherapy and radiation are also options in lieu of or in addition to surgery, according to the A.D.A.M. medical encyclopedia.

Certain factors and behaviors can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, including drinking alcohol, chewing tobacco, having bile reflux, drinking extremely hot liquids, having gastroesophageal reflux disease, being obese, having Barrett's esophagus, smoking, and having radiation treatments to the area, the Mayo Clinic reported.