What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the esophagus, a tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. The accumulation of these extra cells forms a mass of tissue called a tumor.
What are the causes of esophageal cancer?
The exact cause of esophageal cancer is not known, however certain factors such as advancing age, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), obesity, Barrett's esophagus, diet, smoking, alcohol, chemicals and pollutants may increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
What are the types of esophageal cancer?
There are two main types of esophageal cancer. Both types are diagnosed, treated, and managed in similar ways.
The two most common types are named for how the cancer cells look under a microscope. Both types begin in cells in the inner lining of the esophagus:
- Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus: This type is usually found in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach. In the United States, adenocarcinoma is the most common type of esophageal cancer. It's been increasing since the 1970s.
- Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus: This type is usually found in the upper part of the esophagus. This type is becoming less common among Americans. Around the world, however, squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type.
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Early esophageal cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:
- Food gets stuck in the esophagus, and food may come back up
- Pain when swallowing
- Pain in the chest or back
- Weight loss
- A hoarse voice or cough that doesn't go away within 2 weeks
These symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or other health problems. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.
What are the treatment options?
People with esophageal cancer have several treatment options. The options are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments. For example, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery.
The treatment that's right for you depends mainly on the following:
- Where the cancer is located within the esophagus
- Whether the cancer has invaded nearby structures
- Whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs
- Your symptoms
- Your general health
There are several types of surgery for esophageal cancer. The type depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole esophagus or only the part that has the cancer. Usually, the surgeon removes the section of the esophagus with the cancer, lymph nodes, and nearby soft tissues. Part or all of the stomach may also be removed. You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you.