(Cancer of the Esophagus)
- Esophageal cancer facts*
- What is the esophagus?
- What is cancer?
- What are the types of esophageal cancer?
- What are esophageal cancer causes and risk factors?
- What are esophageal cancer symptoms and signs?
- How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?
- What are the stages of esophageal cancer?
- What is the treatment for esophageal cancer?
- Radiation therapy
- Should people get a second opinion after an esophageal cancer diagnosis?
- What are the side effects of treatment for cancer of the esophagus?
- What follow-up care is necessary during recovery?
- Where can people get support for esophageal cancer?
- How can people with esophageal cancer participate in clinical trials?
- Where can people find more information about esophageal cancer?
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Symptoms and Signs
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Prognosis
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Types
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Risk Factors
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Diagnosis
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Treatment
- Patient Comments: Esophageal Cancer - Second Opinion
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
Esophageal cancer facts*
*Esophageal cancer facts Medically Edited by: Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD
- The esophagus in adults is a muscular tube about 10 inches long that helps move food from the mouth to the stomach. It is composed of a mucosal lining, submucosa, muscle tissue and an outer covering layer of cells called the adventitia above the diaphragm and the serosa below the diaphragm.
- Cancer cells are malignant forms of body cells that often grow to form tissue masses or tumors that can spread to other organs.
- The two main types of esophageal cancer are adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.
- Risk factors for both types are age 65 or greater, male sex, smoking, heavy drinking, a diet poor in fruits and vegetables, obesity, acid reflux, and Barrett's's esophagus.
- Common symptoms of esophageal cancer include food getting stuck in the esophagus and vomiting, pain with swallowing, chest and/or back pain, heartburn, weight loss and a hoarse voice.
- Diagnosis is performed by a barium swallow test, endoscopy and biopsy (definitive test)
- There are five stages of esophageal cancer – Stages 0 to IV, with 0 being the least invasive and IV the most aggressive with spread to distant organs.
- Treatment of this cancer is individually based on the patient's health and cancer stage; the options vary from surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these options (also, some patients may be considered for laser or photodynamic therapy)
- Surgery for this cancer may involve part or all of the esophagus; other structures (part of the stomach, lymph nodes or other parts of affected organs may be removed).
- Radiation therapy uses high energy rays focused to kill cancer cells; it is often used together with chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells; it is often used together with radiation and/or surgery and often requires cycles or repeated doses of drugs.
- In general, patients are encouraged to get a second opinion about their diagnosis and treatment for esophageal cancer.
- Side effects of treatment for esophageal cancer may include the need for supportive care to control pain, infections such as pneumonia, difficulty in swallowing, depression, nausea, vomiting, requiring a feeding tube, requiring a special diet, weight loss, and may need vitamin and mineral supplements
- Follow-up care for monitoring and or additional treatments is usually required
- Supportive care can be provided for esophageal cancer patients; this should be done by the patient's treatment team, as well as by social workers, counselors, clergy and many others.
- Research about esophageal cancer is ongoing; the treating doctors may be able to link patients to other researchers that are doing clinical trials of the newest treatments for this cancer.
- The National Cancer Institute (NCI) offers an extensive amount of information about cancers, including esophageal cancer (1-800-422-6237) and through their PDQ website.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014
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