Esophageal Cancer

Get Back Your Health

Esophageal cancer is the presence of malignant cancer cells within the tissue that lines the muscular tube through which food travels on its way to the stomach, the esophagus.   The National Cancer Institute estimates as many as 15,560 new esophageal cancer cases in 2007 with a reported 13,940 deaths over the same time period.  Because early detection is crucial in the successful treatment of esophageal cancer, it is important to understand the risk factors and symptoms as well as different screening and diagnostic options available.

The risk factors associated with esophageal cancer include those which are genetic and cannot be prevented such as being male or African American as well as those which require a certain behavior such as cigarette smoking and continued heavy consumption of alcohol.  It is also important to note that the risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age and/or declining health.  Because treatment is much more difficult and statistically not as successful in the cancer’s later stages it is important to note how many of the risk factors you possess, coupled with your family history so you may speak with your doctor about the potential benefits of screening for esophageal cancer even if no symptoms are present.  In many cases of esophageal cancer, the onset of symptoms often did not occur until the malignant cancer cells had time to spread.  Without screening, these patients did not become aware of their esophageal cancer until it was much harder to treat.  The symptoms of esophageal cancer often include, but are not limited to, unexplained weight loss, painful and difficult swallowing, chest pain and indigestion or heartburn.  It is important to speak with your doctor immediately if experiencing any of these symptoms.

For high risk patients or those experiencing symptoms, there are a few different tools available to your doctor to aid in diagnosis.  Some of the diagnostic tools your doctor may utilize are standard chest x-rays and upper GI series barium x-rays.  An esophagoscopy is a procedure in which a camera is inserted into the esophagus, allowing doctors to inspect the esophageal lining for abnormal cells.  If any suspicious cells are located, a biopsy will then be performed to detect if the cells are malignant in nature and thus cancerous.