Researchers analysed four published observational studies, and found that the most physically active people were 19% less likely to develop oesophageal cancer than those who were least active.
The review also found that people who were physically active had a 32% lower risk of developing a type of cancer called oesophageal adenocarcinoma, which can arise from a condition called Barrett's oesophagus.
The findings are scheduled for presentation at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting, in San Diego.
"Obesity has been associated with increased risk of oesophageal cancer through high levels of insulin, as well as chronic inflammation," study author Dr Siddharth Singh, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said in a college news release.
"By decreasing visceral fat, lowering the level of carcinogenic adipokines, improving insulin sensitivity and decreasing chronic inflammation, physical activity can potentially decrease the risk of oesophageal cancer," Singh said.
Too early to conclude
It's too early to conclude that exercise directly decreases oesophageal cancer risk, said Singh, who noted that physically active people may be more likely to have healthy lifestyles than those who aren't physically active. It also may be possible that healthy habits other than physical activity could contribute to the lower risk of oesophageal cancer.
Oesophageal cancer is the sixth most common cancer in men worldwide, and the five-year survival rate is about 15%, with most patients dying within the first year after diagnosis.
Research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The US National Cancer Institute has more about oesophageal cancer.