The esophagus is a muscular tube that moves swallowed food from your throat to your stomach as part of the process of digestion. At the top, there is a band of muscle called the upper esophageal sphincter, and at the bottom, there’s another band of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter. When a person isn’t swallowing, these muscles contract to prevent stomach acid from getting into the esophagus. Esophageal cancer begins in the inner layer of the organ, growing outward. Two different types of cells line the inside of esophagus, squamous cells and adenocarcinoma, cells that make mucus. These are the two most common types of esophageal cancer. This cancer is more common in men than women and in the U.S. makes up 1% of cancers diagnosed. People with GERD have a slightly higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Common Symptom of the Disease
Most cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed due to people becoming symptomatic. Unfortunately, symptoms of this disease generally don’t appear until the disease has progressed to an advanced stage.
- Trouble swallowing/feeling like food is stuck in throat/chest
- Chocking on food
- Pain with swallowing
- Thick mucus or saliva
- Chest pain, pressure or burning in chest
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Chronic cough
- Bone pain
- Black stool
Treatment for esophageal cancer varies based on the type of cells involved, what stage it is in and the patient’s general health. Surgery may be the treatment option, or surgery in combination with other therapies. There are several different types of surgeries that treat esophageal cancer. If the tumors are small and haven’t spread, surgery to remove the cancer and healthy margins may be done using an endoscope. Other surgeries include an esophagectomy, which is most often undertaken to treat advanced esophageal cancer and sometimes for Barrett’s esophagus if it is aggressively precancerous. The surgery removes all or part of the esophagus, replacing it with either the stomach or large intestine. This procedure can sometimes be done laparoscopically, but otherwise conventional surgery is required. Radiation therapy is most often combined with chemotherapy in people with esophageal cancer. Sometimes radiation therapy is also used to shrink a tumor that has grown large enough to stop food from passing to your stomach.Previous Page Last Review Date: April 30, 2020