The esophagus is a hollow, long muscular tube that allows the flow of food from the throat to the stomach via muscular contractions. Esophageal cancer may develop when a malignant tumor forms in the lining of the esophagus.
As the tumor develops, it may spread to the deep tissues and muscles of the esophagus. Tumors may develop at any point along the length of the esophagus.
The etiology of esophageal cancer is unknown. Esophageal cancer develops when cells in the esophagus undergo genetic changes (mutations). These changes make the cells grow and divide uncontrollably. The accumulating abnormal cells in the esophagus create a tumor, which may grow large enough to infect surrounding tissues and spread to other areas of the body, a process called metastasis.
Though the specific causes of esophageal cancer are unknown, the illness is associated with several risk factors. The following are risk factors for esophageal cancer:
- Old age: Esophageal cancer is more common in people over the age of 60.
- Male gender: Men are three times more likely than women to develop the condition.
- Tobacco use: Tobacco usage includes both smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco is known to heighten the risk of diagnosing Esophageal cancer.
- Alcohol Consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
- Barrett's esophagus and chronic acid reflux: Barrett's esophagus is a change in the cells at the esophagus's lower end caused by chronic acid reflux. Even in the absence of Barrett's esophagus, persons who suffer from long-term heartburn have an increased chance of developing esophageal cancer.
- Achalasia: It is a rare disorder that causes difficulty in swallowing.
- Tylosis: It is a rare hereditary condition characterized by excessive skin growth on the palms and soles of the feet.
- Cancer History: Individuals who have had neck or head cancer are at a high risk of developing esophageal cancer.
In its early stages, esophageal cancer may be present with no symptoms. The first symptom that individuals usually notice is difficulty swallowing. The tumor narrows the opening of the esophagus as it develops, making swallowing difficult and painful. Other symptoms of esophageal cancer include the following:
- Pain in the throat, behind the breastbone, or between the shoulder blades
- Vomiting or coughing up blood
- Unintentional weight loss
- Frequent choking while eating
- Food coming back up the esophagus
- Persistent cough
Treatment for esophageal cancer varies, depending on the stage of cancer and the patient's general condition.
- Surgery: In surgical methods of treatment, some part or all of the esophagus may be removed.
- Radiation treatment: Radiation therapy is a treatment method that is used to kill cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: In Chemotherapy, powerful drugs that are very effective in attacking cancer cells throughout the body are often used in conjunction with radiation treatment and/or surgery.
- Targeted Therapy: Treatments that target specific aspects of cancer to slow the development and spread of the disease come under Targeted Therapy.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy aids the immune system in its fight against cancer cells.
- Photodynamic therapy: Photodynamic therapy utilizes specific laser light to target cancer cells.
- Electrocoagulation: In Electrocoagulation, a stream of electric current is passed to kill cancer cells.
- Cryotherapy: Freezing cancer cells to aid in tumor shrinkage is known as Cryotherapy.
Our multidisciplinary team of medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and gastroenterologists treats patients in various stages of esophageal cancer. Cancer Clinics staff recognizes that treating disorders of the gastrointestinal system, such as esophageal cancer requires expertise. We assist you in selecting a treatment plan customized to your specific needs. Get yourself screened today!