In this article, you’ll get everything you need to know about Esophageal cancer.
Esophageal cancer is the cancer of the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and pharynx to the stomach. The esophagus passes the food to the stomach for digestion, through peristaltic movements. The malignant tumor usually has its origins on the cells of the inside of the food pipe. An estimated 17,650 adults will present with esophageal cancer in 2019 in the US. Besides, 16,080 people will die from it. It ranks as the 7th most common cancer death in males. The percentage of people that live 5 years at least after their primary diagnosis is 45%, suggesting that it is a generally challenging disease to treat, if not diagnosed early. However, the 5-year survival rate is a multifactorial parameter that also depends on the stage of the disease.
What are the risk factors for esophageal cancer?
A risk factor increases an individual’s chances of presenting with a disease at some point in their lives. For esophageal cancer, the following are true:
- Older adults, between 45 and 70 years old, have more chances of developing esophageal cancer.
- Men are 3 or 4 times more likely to present with esophageal cancer.
- Black people have double the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Smoking raises your chances of cancer of the food pipe.
- Heavy alcohol consumption puts you at a high risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Barrett’s esophagus is a pre-malignant state that increases the chances of cancer of the gullet.
- Achalasia is a condition of the lower food pipe that may lead to cancer.
- Obesity severely increases your chances of esophageal cancer.
- Accidental lye consumption puts you at high risk for esophageal carcinoma.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) may be a risk factor for the development of esophageal cancer. However, there’s no direct link to sustain that. HPV is a sexually transmitted disease with various strains.
Those who are at significant risk for esophageal cancer should undergo regular screening. Keep in mind that the sooner you diagnose it, the better your treatment response and outcome. Generally, those with Barrett’s esophagus should have endoscopic examinations through a tube inserted from the mouth. If necessary, your doctor may obtain biopsies too, to examine the tissue under the microscope, and to prevent late diagnosis.
What are the types of esophageal cancer?
The types of esophageal cancer are the following:
- Adenocarcinoma, which is the most common type of esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) predispose you to develop the disease.
- Squamous cell carcinoma, which is the second most common type of esophageal cancer. Tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption are the two most important risk factors.
- Small cell carcinoma, which is a rare type of esophageal cancer, begins in neuroendocrine cells.
What are the signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Esophageal may present with or without symptoms. Sometimes, typical signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer may be the result of another medical condition. Therefore, further examinations are necessary to establish the diagnosis. The following are some of the most common symptoms and signs that accompany esophageal cancer:
- Dysphagia upon solid food and later liquids
- Choking on food
- Chest pain
- Unexplained weight loss
You should keep in mind that these signs and symptoms may be the result of a different medical condition of the esophagus. However, you should report them to your doctor even if they are mild or intermittent. Early diagnosis of esophageal cancer is crucial when it comes to effective and definite treatment.
Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis
Upon medical consultation, your doctor will perform a physical examination. You might also need to undergo some further testing, such as barium swallow, upper endoscopy, endoscopic ultrasound, biopsy, bronchoscopy, and molecular testing of the tumor. Also, some imaging techniques might be necessary to establish whether there is cancer metastasis.
After investigation, your physician will determine the stage of the tumor. The TNM staging system is one of the most frequently used staging systems. However, two distinctive types of esophageal cancer have their staging system. These types are esophageal adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus.
Esophageal Cancer Treatment
The treatment of esophageal cancer is a multidisciplinary matter. Often, clinical oncologists have to cooperate with surgeons as well as doctors and professionals in other fields. Treatment options are some of the following:
- Therapeutic or palliative surgery
- Endoscopic therapy
- Radiation therapy
- Targeted therapy
The treatment may lead to remission of the disease. In that case, cancer is undetectable in the body. However, there is always a chance for recurrence. There is also the possibility that recovery is not possible. In this case, the cancer is terminal or advanced. Terminal esophageal cancer usually needs hospice care that provides the individual with the best quality of life for those with advanced disease.
Esophageal Cancer Prevention
To prevent esophageal cancer, you need to modify your lifestyle and decrease your risk of developing the disease. You can do so by doing some of the following:
- Stop smoking. Tobacco smoking increases your risk for many types of cancers.
- Reduce the consumption of alcohol. Doctors recommend one drink per day for women and two for men.
- Report any symptoms to your doctor, especially if you experience persistent heartburn.
- Eat healthily and exercise regularly.
- Avoid the risk factors of esophageal cancer.
- Ask your doctor to perform regular screening tests.