Esophageal cancer

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor


What is esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells grow up in the esophagus, a tube-like structure that runs from your throat to your stomach. Food goes from the mouth to the stomach through the esophagus. The cancer starts at the inner layer of the esophagus and can spread throughout the other layers of the esophagus and to other parts of the body (metastasis).

How common is esophageal cancer?

In some areas of the world, such as Asia and parts of Africa, esophageal cancer is much more common. Men and the elderly are commonly catch the esophageal cancer.

However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.


What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?

During the early stages of esophageal cancer, you probably will not experience any symptoms. As your cancer progresses, you may experience:

  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • Frequent choking while eating
  • Vomiting
  • Food coming back up the esophagus
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently.

If you’ve been diagnosed with 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 that your condition is worsening.

Screening for esophageal cancer isn’t done routinely due to a lack of an easily identifiable high-risk group and the possible risks associated with endoscopy. If you have Barrett’s esophagus, discuss the pros and cons of screening with your doctor.


What causes esophageal cancer?

It’s not clear what causes esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer occurs when cells in your esophagus develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. The errors make cells grow and divide out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumor in the esophagus that can grow to invade nearby structures and spread to other parts of the body.

There are three common types of esophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma occurs when cancer starts in the flat, thin cells that make up the lining of the esophagus. This form most often appears in the top or middle of the esophagus, but it can appear anywhere.
  • Adenocarcinoma occurs when cancer starts in the glandular cells of the esophagus that are responsible for the production of fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinomas are most common in the lower portion of the esophagus.
  • Other rare types. Rare forms of esophageal cancer include choriocarcinoma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma and small cell cancer.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for esophageal cancer?

There are a number of factors which increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer. They include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which contents and acid from the stomach back up into the esophagus, significantly increase the risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Smoking or other kind of tobacco using.
  • Alcohol abuse.
  • Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that affects the lower part of the esophagus and can lead to esophageal cancer. Barrett’s esophagus may be caused by GERD. Over time, stomach acid in the esophagus can cause changes in the cells that increase risk for adenocarcinoma.

In addition, certain groups, men and the elderly are at greater risk for esophageal cancer. Risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is higher in white men but squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus is more common in Asian men and men of color.

Diagnosis &treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?

Tests and procedures used to diagnose esophageal cancer include:

  • Barium swallow X-ray, in which you drink a liquid that coats your esophagus. This makes the esophagus stand out on the X-ray so that your doctor can identify certain problems.
  • Endoscopy: the doctor passes an endoscope, a thin, lighted tube, down your throat into your esophagus to examine it. Endoscopic ultrasound uses sound waves to provide more information about the extent of tumor involvement in nearby tissues.
  • Biopsy: during an endoscopy, the doctor can take cells or tissue from your esophagus. The cells are examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer.
  • Other tests, including computed tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, thoracoscopy, and laparoscopy, may be performed to determine if the cancer has spread, or metastasized, outside of the esophagus. This process is called “staging.” The doctor needs this information in order to plan your treatment.

How is esophageal cancer treated?

Based on the type of cells involved in your cancer, your cancer’s stage, your overall health, the treatments of esophageal cancer are determined.

  • Surgery

Part or all of the esophagus may be removed

  • Radiation therapy

Kills cancer cells with radiation

  • Chemotherapy

Powerful drugs that target cancer cells throughout the body. Typically used in combination with radiation therapy and/or surgery

  • Photodynamic therapy

Targets early cancer cells with a special laser light.

  • Electrocoagulation

Uses electric current to destroy early cancer cells.

Lifestyle changes &home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage esophageal cancer?

Although there is no certain way to stop esophageal cancer, there are a few steps you can take to lower your risk, include:

  • Avoiding cigarettes and chewing tobacco is key
  • Limiting your consumption of alcohol is also thought to lower your risk
  • Eating a diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and maintaining a healthy weight may also be effective ways to avoid esophageal cancer.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: December 20, 2016 | Last Modified: September 12, 2019

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