Esophageal cancer affects the lining of the esophagus or the tube where food passes from the throat into the stomach. There are two forms of this type of cancer, one known as squamous cell carcinoma and the other known as adenocarcinoma. With the first type, the cancer starts in the flat cells that line the esophagus.
With the second, the cancer starts in the cells which create mucus. It’s estimated that there are nearly 15,000 deaths from the disease annually in the United States and more than 16,000 new cases.Even with those estimates, esophageal cancer is rare in the United States, and more common in Asia and Africa.
Symptoms of the Disease
A person affected by esophageal cancer will experience symptoms such as difficult swallowing. They may also feel tired or fatigued and lose weight inexplicably. Some people experience pain in their shoulder blades or behind the breastbone as well as in the throat.
Other symptoms of the cancer include pain in the chest and a chronic cough, hoarseness or hiccups. In the latter stages of the disease or a severe case, one might cough up blood. It’s very important that if you are experiencing such symptoms you contact your doctor immediately.
The people most at risk for esophageal cancer are men, especially those who are overweight. People who consumer hot beverages frequently are also at risk, as well as those who have smoked or drank heavily for a long time. Another risk factor is working in dry cleaning or around silica dust.
Many people who get esophageal cancer are over the age of 60. Other risks include the ingestion of caustics substances such as lye and having had a diet that’s low in vegetables, fruits and other foods that contain important vitamins and minerals.
Medical Conditions Associated
There are some conditions that have been linked to this type of cancer. If a person has undergone radiation treatment near the area of the esophagus, they might be at risk. Conditions such as tylosis which is inherited and causes excessive growth of skin on the hands and feet and a history of neck cancer put people in a risky group.
Other conditions that might make one susceptible include achalasia, a condition where food moves improperly through the esophagus and esophageal webs or bands of tissue that stick out into the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow. While you may have or have had these problems, this does not mean that you have or will get esophageal cancer, but that you should be aware of the potential for it.
Treatment for Esophageal Cancer
A doctor will first diagnose the disease using a scope that is sent down the throat. Also, the physician might conduct a barium swallow with an X-ray that allows the condition to appear in a X-ray. Then, the doctor will take a biopsy of the throat in which the tissue is examined for cancer. If cancer is detected in the esophagus, the doctor will determine which stage of cancer one has.
Stage I of the cancer means that only the top layer of the cells that line the esophagus have been affected. With Stage II, deeper layers of the esophagus have been affected and the cancer may or may not have spread to the lymph nodes. With Stage III, the cancer has reached the deepest possible layers of the esophagus and with the final stage, Stage IV, other parts of the body now have cancer.
The doctor will suggest that the patient undergo surgery in order to remove the tumors in the esophagus, if a persona has been diagnosed with cancer. If it has spread further into the esophagus, the doctor will suggest an esophagectomy in which part of the esophagus is removed, including of course, the area of the tumor. The remaining part of the esophagus is connected to the stomach so that swallowing and digesting are still possible.
In later stages of the disease, parts of both the esophagus and the stomach are removed. One of the treatments to esophageal cancer is chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In some cases, the two treatments are combined for the best results.