Esophageal cancer: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Esophageal cancer refers to a malignant tumor of the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the throat with the stomach.

It is rare in the United States but more common in Asia and parts of Africa. In 2015, esophageal cancer made up 1 percent of new diagnoses of cancer and 2.6 percent of deaths from cancer. It mostly affects individuals aged at least 55 years.

The two main subtypes of esophageal cancer are:

Squamous cell carcinoma: This arises from the cells lining the upper part of the esophagus.

Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus: This occurs due to changes in the glandular cells that exist at the junction of the esophagus and the stomach.

Rarer types include:

choriocarcinoma

lymphoma

melanoma

sarcoma

small cell cancer

The treatment, symptoms, and prognosis are similar for both main types of esophageal cancer.

Fast facts on esophageal cancer

Esophageal cancer often does not cause symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. Symptoms can include swallowing difficulties and vomiting.

There are two types, adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Treatment options include photodynamic therapy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy.

The most recent 5-year survival rate recorded for esophageal cancer was 19.2 percent.

Symptoms

esophagus
The esophagus is the tube connecting the throat to the stomach. Growth in this tube can affect swallowing and eating.

There are often no symptoms during the initial stages of this cancer. That is why the majority of diagnoses occur when the cancer is well advanced.

When symptoms are present, they may include:

Dysphagia: As the tumor narrows the passage in the esophagus, getting food through becomes harder. This is usually the first symptom.

Regurgitating: Food is vomited after getting stuck.

Weight loss: Dramatic and sudden weight loss can occur.

A cough: This becomes more common when trying to swallow. Sometimes the person may cough up blood.

Voice changes: The voice may become hoarse.

Pain and discomfort: These affect the throat.

Acid reflux: This can happen if cancer affects the lower part of the esophagus.

Chest pain: This is linked to acid reflux.

Cancer radiotherapy
Radiation therapy can shrink or kill the tumor.

Treatment depends on several factors, including:

the cellular type of cancer

the stage

the general health and age of the patient

the presence of other diseases

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