Esophageal cancer begins in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus (the long, hollow tube connecting your throat to your stomach that carries food to your stomach).
The disease is not as common in the U.S. as in other parts of the world, but when diagnosed in Americans, esophageal cancer is more likely to occur in the lower part of the esophagus. It is more common in men, and incidence of esophageal cancer is higher in patients with Barrett’s esophagus
Esophageal cancer’s cause is unclear. It occurs when esophageal cells abnormally change (mutate), causing them to grow and divide out of control. It becomes cancer when the cells converge to form a tumor in the esophagus that can grow and spread to other parts of the body.
Esophageal cancer is classified according to the type of cells involved. Knowing the type helps determine treatment options. The most common types of esophageal cancer are:
- Adenocarcinoma – This begins in the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the esophagus. It most often occurs in the lower portion of the esophagus, and is the most common form of esophageal cancer in the United States. It primarily affects white males.
- Squamous cell carcinoma – This is the most prevalent type of esophageal cancer worldwide. Squamous cell carcinoma mostly occurs in the middle of the esophagus.
- Choriocarcinoma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma and small cell cancer are rarer forms of the disease.
Chronic irritation of the esophagus can cause the cell mutations that lead to esophageal cancer. Some irritants that can increase the risk of esophageal cancer are lifestyle-related. These include drinking alcohol, smoking, obesity, drinking very hot liquids, and a diet lacking in fresh fruits and vegetables. Other factors that may increase your risk of esophageal cancer include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Achalasia, an esophageal disorder that makes swallowing difficult because the esophageal sphincter (two bands of muscles at either end of the esophagus that keep food and stomach acid from backing up from the stomach to the mouth) won’t relax
- History of radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen
Early esophageal cancer usually presents no obvious symptoms, so it’s important to see a doctor immediately if you experience any persistent or worrisome changes in your health such as: unexplained weight loss; difficulty swallowing (dyphagia); pain, pressure or a burning sensation in the chest; worsening indigestion (acid reflux) or heartburn; coughing; or hoarseness.
If you have Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition that increases your risk of esophageal cancer caused by chronic acid reflux, ask your doctor what signs and symptoms to watch for that may signal a worsening condition.
Complications related to advanced esophageal cancer may include pain, bleeding and obstruction of the esophagus, making it difficult or impossible for food and liquid to pass through the esophageal passageway.
The Heartburn and Acid Reflux Center’s board-certified physicians use the latest medical technologies to diagnose and treat esophageal cancer. We’ll work closely with you to devise the optimum treatment plan for your unique circumstances. For more information, call us today at (855) 648-4799.