What is esophageal cancer?
The esophagus can be found behind the trachea and in front of the spine. It is a hollow, muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Cancer of the esophagus begins on the inner layers and works its way out.
There are two main types of esophagus cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
What are the risk factors for esophageal cancer?
Many people who have risk factors will never develop the disease, but they have a greater chance. Some of the risk factors include:
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Plummer-Vinson syndrome
- Workplace exposures
- Injury of the esophagus
- History of certain other cancers
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Most esophageal cancers, unfortunately, do not show symptoms until they have reached an advanced stage. The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is having trouble swallowing. This, many times, will cause people to change their diet without knowing it. In order for the body to make it easier to swallow, more mucus or saliva is produced. Many patients complain as this causes them to lose weight without trying.
Chest pain can also be a sign of esophagus cancer. Pain or discomfort in the middle of a person’s chest could be falsely attributed to other issues such as heartburn making it rare that a person might think it is cancer.
Other symptoms could include:
- Chronic cough
- Bone pain
- Bleeding into the esophagus
How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?
Most esophagus cancer is diagnosed once the cancer has already reached a more advanced level because most of the symptoms do not appear right away. If this cancer is suspected, certain tests and exams will be done to confirm. These tests can include medical history and physical exams followed by imaging tests, barium swallow, endoscopy, lab testing and biopsy, or others.
How is esophageal cancer treated?
Once cancer is confirmed, there are many different treatment options to consider. The main treatment options for esophageal cancer include:
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
- Endoscopic treatments
Palliative treatment can also be provided. Palliative treatments are meant to help relieve the discomfort and trouble swallowing but are not meant to cure cancer.