What is esophageal cancer?
Your esophagus is the muscular tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. It is a vital part of the digestive tract that fuels our bodies.
The inner surface of your esophagus is lined with squamous cells. Due to various circumstances, these cells sometimes change and result in cancerous growths.
Types of esophageal cancer
There are two types of esophageal cancer – squamous and adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the upper part of the esophagus and is generally associated with smoking and excessive drinking.
Adenocarcinoma, which occurs where the esophagus and stomach meet, seems to be more closely related to chronic heartburn and possibly repeated exposure to hazardous chemicals and inhalants.
Who gets esophageal cancer?
Although younger people can be affected, esophageal cancer is most prevalent for those over 50 years of age. Esophageal cancer does discriminate. It affects men more than women with about three out of every four esophageal cancer patients being male.
In most cases, the cause of esophageal cancer is unclear but alcohol and tobacco use as well as a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus may increase the risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
It is not normal to not be able to swallow easily. If you have trouble swallowing, you need to see a physician.
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
When a person has trouble swallowing, or finds solid food is sticking inside their esophagus, this could be a sign that cancer is developing or present in the esophagus. Over time, these difficulties will become more persistent and severe. If left untreated, it eventually becomes difficult to swallow liquids.
For some people, pain behind the breastbone and weight loss may also indicate the presence of esophageal cancer.
How do I know if I have esophageal cancer?
There are several tests to determine if you have esophageal cancer. The first may include a barium X-ray, using barium sulfate, a metallic chemical that x-rays cannot pass through, to take an image of the area. A barium X-ray is also referred to as an upper GI series.
If additional testing is needed, an endoscopy may also be performed. This safe test involves the insertion of a slim, flexible tube with a camera at one end into the esophagus. It allows the doctor to see inside your esophagus and to biopsy (take tissue samples for examination under a microscope) any abnormalities.
How is esophageal cancer treated?
Several types of treatment are used, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and endoscopic therapy.
Chemotherapy is medication. It kills cancer cells by stopping them from growing, multiplying or spreading to other parts of the body.
Radiotherapy, also called radiation therapy, uses ionizing radiation energy to destroy cells by making it impossible for them to grow. Both chemotherapy and radiotherapy are often given together to treat esophageal cancer.
Endoscopic treatment is palliative and is intended to relieve difficulties that occur when a person has trouble swallowing.
What are the outcomes of therapy?
Unfortunately, the outlook for patients with esophageal cancer is not good. Fewer than 5% of patients survive more than five years after diagnosis. Once esophageal cancer is detected, it is often too advanced to be cured so it is vitally important to see a doctor if you have difficulty swallowing or have been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus.
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