Stages of Esophageal Cancer and Treatments
All About Esophageal Cancer
Learn who is at risk for esophageal cancer and how to recognize the signs of this relatively uncommon cancer.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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As you eat, you probably don't think much about how your food will get from your mouth to your stomach. But all the while, your body is at work in the fairly complex process that is digestion, and it all starts with your esophagus — the tube that carries the food into your stomach. And like many other parts of the body, the esophagus is susceptible to cancer.
There are two main types of esophageal cancer,squamous cell esophageal cancerandesophageal adenocarcinoma.Squamous cell esophageal cancer, the most common type, affects the cells that form the interior lining of the esophagus. Esophageal adenocarcinoma develops in the tissues found in the base of the esophagus, nearest the stomach.
Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer
There are a number of risk factors for esophageal cancer. Because early detection is important for treatment and long-term survival, people who are most likely to get esophageal cancer should be on the lookout for warning signs of the disease. Some factors that increase the risk for developing esophageal cancer include:
- Reflux disease.If you suffer from a condition called Barrett's esophagus or from chronic acid reflux, you are at an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Drinking and smoking.Excessive alcohol use and smoking are known risk factors for esophageal cancer.
- Gender and age.Men are more likely than women to get esophageal cancer, and people over the age of 65 are most likely to get esophageal cancer.
- What you eat and drink.If you are overweight or obese, or don't eat enough fruits and vegetables, your risk of developing esophageal cancer increases. People who frequently drink very hot liquids may also be more likely to develop a certain type of esophageal cancer, but more research is needed on that subject.
- Environment.People who have been exposed to certain chemicals or other hazards, such as radiation therapy, silica dust, and dry cleaning solvents, may be at a greater risk for esophageal cancer.
For more information on the causes of and risk factors for esophageal cancer, see"Tracking the Underlying Causes of Esophageal Cancer."
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
Many people don't have any obvious symptoms of esophageal cancer until the cancer has become quite advanced. These warning signs may then show up:
- Problems eating and swallowing.Foods, particularly breads or meat, may become difficult to swallow. As the cancer becomes more advanced, even liquids may become difficult or painful to swallow. Food might seem to get stuck in your throat, or may come back up when you try to get it down. Heartburn is also common. People who have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer can change the way they eat to accommodate swallowing difficulties, by choosing soft, easy-to-swallow foods and chewing carefully.
- Weight Loss.Because swallowing food can become difficult and even painful with esophageal cancer, you may be eating less, or not getting the calories you need.
- Hoarse voice.Usually a symptom of advanced esophageal cancer, hoarseness may be accompanied by frequent hiccupping or vomiting blood.
- Throat pain.You may experience pain in your throat when you swallow, pain in your chest around the breastbone area, or pain between the shoulder blades.
Prognosis for Esophageal Cancer
Because symptoms often do not appear until esophageal cancer has advanced and has often spread to other organs, the prognosis for people with esophageal cancer is often poor. But for people who receive an early diagnosis of esophageal cancer — before it has spread to other parts of the body — the chance of long-term survival can be good. Between 80 to 90 percent of these esophageal cancer patients can expect to survive at least five years after their treatment.
Esophageal cancer is not one of the more common cancers. Each year, approximately 12,000 to 18,000 esophageal cancer diagnoses are made in the United States.
If you have Barrett's esophagus or chronic acid reflux, make sure your doctor monitors it regularly. Prevention and early detection are the best tools against esophageal cancer, and a healthy diet and lifestyle are always your best bets for staying well and helping prevent all types of cancer.
Video: Treatment for early cancer of the oesophagus - Cancer Research UK
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