Esophageal cancer occurs when an accumulation of abnormal cells form a tumor in the inner lining of the esophagus. Once the cancer cells have grown into the wall of the esophagus, they can then spread to the lymph nodes, aorta (large blood vessel), and other parts of the body, including the lungs, liver, and stomach.
Types of Esophageal Cancer
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is a growth of abnormal cells that form a layer on the lining of the esophagus, predominantly at the beginning and middle of the esophagus.
- Adenocarcinoma develops from the gland cells of the esophagus.
Currently, the exact causes of esophageal cancer are not known. However, factors that increase the risk of esophageal cancer developing include:
- Age: People aged between 45-70 years have the greatest risk.
- Gender: Esophageal cancer is more than 3 times as common in men than in women.
- Smoking: The risk increases in accordance with the length of time someone has smoked and the number of cigarettes they smoke.
- Drinking: Drinking increases the risk of esophageal cancer, especially SCC.
- Precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus) can lead to adenocarcinoma.
- Mineral Deficiency: Not eating sufficient fruit vegetables can lead to a mineral deficiency.
Esophageal cancer does not cause any noticeable symptoms in its early stage. However, the following symptoms will occur in its advanced stage:
- Difficulty swallowing, especially solid foods, such as meat, bread, or vegetables. In its advanced stage, the cancer is large enough to limit the passage of food through the esophagus and swallowing even water may become painful.
- Chest discomfort or heartburn
- Abdominal bloating, indigestion
- Choking while swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Pain in the throat or behind the breastbone
- The doctor will check the patient’s history and conduct a physical examination
- The patient will be given a mixture of barium and water to drink. The barium temporarily coats the gullet, stomach and small intestine. X-ray images can then show up any tumors or abnormalities.
- An upper GI endoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to remove a sample of abnormal tissue for further examination.
- An endoscopic ultrasound can help the doctor to evaluate how much the cancer has grown and whether it has spread to nearby organs.
- A biopsy is usually performed during the GI endoscopy.
- A computerized tomography (CT) scan generates three-dimensional images of internal organs and enables the doctor to observe the location and spread of the disease much more definitively than from a standard x-ray.
The treatment of esophageal cancer involves the collaboration of a team of medical professionals from various fields, such as surgeons, radiologists, and oncologists, who together will plan the most suitable treatment for each patient. The choice of treatment depends on:
- Size, location and appearance of cancerous cells
- Stage and spread of cancer
- Patient’s overall health