Simply put, esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus, a long tube that connects your mouth to your stomach and is responsible for transporting food from the former to the latter. Cancer can develop just about anywhere on the esophagus, which includes the area where it connects with the stomach.
Experts say that there are a couple of kinds of esophageal cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that starts in the cells of the inner lining of the esophagus. Although it’s true that it can appear anywhere throughout the length of the esophagus, squamous cell carcinoma usually occurs on the top or middle portion of it.
- Adenocarcinoma, on the other hand, is cancer that starts in the so-called glandular cells responsible for the production of mucus and other fluids the esophagus needs for functioning. According to experts, adenocarcinoma usually strikes the lower portion of the esophagus.
Just like the case with most other types of cancers known to man, experts do not really know the exact reason why esophageal cancer happens. However, they do believe that it can be due to abnormalities in the DNA found in the cells of the esophagus, which results in rapidly-multiplying cells.
There are many things that are regarded as risk factors of esophageal cancer. They include:
- Cigarette smoking, which is something linked to the formation of so many other cancer types.
- Alcohol consumption as it can cause damage to the DNA of the cells of the esophagus.
- Long-term irritation of the esophagus, which can be due to acid reflux, GERD or Barrett’s esophagus.
- Obesity, which is associated with the development of esophageal cancer as well as many other cancers.
- Opting for a diet that’s high meat and processed food products, and low in fruit and vegetables.
- According to experts, a person’s likelihood of having cancer of the esophagus increases with age.
During its early stages, esophageal cancer does not produce any symptom. Usually, it is accidentally found by doctors while performing other tests. Sadly, cancer of the esophagus produces symptoms only during its advanced stages, during a time when it is already regarded as something that’s difficult to treat.
Experts say that some of the symptoms of esophageal cancer, should they be present, include:
- Trouble with swallowing is one of the most common complains of people with esophageal cancer.
- Many people with the said cancer may experience unintentional or unexplained weight loss.
- A burning sensation or pressure in the chest may also be common, which is often mistaken for heartburn.
- Fatigue may also be experienced, which is also a symptom usually associated with other cancer types.
- Vomiting, hiccups, chronic cough, hoarseness and pneumonia are also other esophageal cancer symptoms.
Different medical treatments are available for esophageal cancer, which are best done during the early stages of the cancer. They include:
- Surgical removal of superficial cancer may be done with the help of an endoscope. In advanced or serious cases, the affected portion of the esophagus may have to be removed surgically.
- Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs that kill off cancer cells. Usually, it is used after surgery or in combination with the next treatment for esophageal cancer.
- Radiation therapy entails the use of radiation rather than drugs in eliminating cancer cells. Radiation may be administered with an external machine or a device placed close to the cancer.
No one really knows how to keep cancer of the esophagus from striking. However, experts say that it is possible to lower one’s risk of it by:
- Avoiding cigarette smoking
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Maintaining an ideal weight
- Opting for a diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Exercising on a regular basis