What is Esophageal Cancer?
The esophagus is the passage that food and liquids travel through to reach the stomach. Esophageal cancer is cancer that occurs in the esophagus. It commonly begins in the cells that line the esophagus, though it can occur anywhere along the esophagus.
Common symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
- Chest pain, burning, or pressure.
- Worsening of heartburn or indigestion.
- Unintentional weight loss.
What Causes Esophageal Cancer?
When abnormal cells begin to grow out of control in the esophageal tissue, esophageal cancer can occur. These cells can form a mass called a tumor. Overall, there are two types of esophageal cancer, including:
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Originates in the cells that line the esophagus, and is usually located in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.
Develops in the tissue that creates mucus that helps with swallowing. It commonly occurs in the lower part of the esophagus.
There are certain risk factors for esophageal cancer, including older age, being male, regular use of tobacco and alcohol, having Barrett’s esophagus or acid reflux or diagnosis with the human papillomavirus (HPV).
How is Esophageal Cancer Diagnosed?
There are a number of tests and procedures that can be used to diagnose esophageal cancer. These may include one or a combination of a barium swallow study, an endoscopy or a biopsy of your esophageal tissue. Your provider will determine which tests are appropriate for diagnosis in your individual case. If cancer is diagnosed, your provider may then recommend additional testing to determine if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body.
Esophageal Cancer Treatment Options
There are different operations that can be used to treat esophageal cancer, including surgery to remove small tumors, surgery to remove a portion of the esophagus and surgery to remove part of the esophagus and the upper part of your stomach.
This treatment uses high-powered energy beams like X-rays to destroy cancer cells. Sometimes, radiation therapy is combined with chemotherapy after surgery if cancer could not be completely removed.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy fast-growing cancer cells. It can be administered through a vein in your arm, in pill form or both.
Targeted Drug Therapy
These treatments pinpoint specific weaknesses present in cancer cells, killing them. Targeted drug therapy may be a good option for those with advanced esophageal cancer.
Immunotherapy drug treatment helps your immune system to fight cancer, and is often a good option for treating advanced esophageal cancer.
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