Esophageal cancer is an abnormal growth of tissue that occurs in the esophagus, the tube that runs from the throat down to the stomach. The esophagus moves swallowed food to the stomach for digestion.
Esophageal cancer can form anywhere along the esophagus and typically begins in the cells that line it.
The types of esophageal cancer are categorized based on the cells involved, and they include:
- Adenocarcinoma: Considered the most common type of esophageal cancer, adenocarcinoma develops in the cells that exist in the mucus-secreting glands of the esophagus (typically, the lower portion of the esophagus)
What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?
Symptoms often do not present early on in the disease. However, in later stages, they can include:
- Difficulty with swallowing (dysphagia)
- Heartburn or indigestion that worsens over time
- Hoarseness or coughing
- Pressure, pain or burning in the chest
- Unintended weight loss
How Is Esophageal Cancer Diagnosed?
If there is a suspicion of esophageal cancer, a physician may recommend tests, including:
- An endoscopy to examine the esophagus
- A biopsy to collect a sample of abnormal-looking tissue, which can be performed during the endoscopy
What Are the Treatments for Esophageal Cancer?
Treatments for esophageal cancer depend on overall health, the stage of the cancer and the cells involved. Options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Surgery to remove the cancerous growth may be performed alone or with other treatments. Surgical possibilities include:
- Surgery to remove tiny tumors when they are located in the superficial layers of the esophagus and have not spread
Typically, chemotherapy is a drug treatment designed to kill cancer cells before surgery (neoadjuvant) or after surgery (adjuvant). It may also be combined with radiation therapy or used alone to alleviate symptoms in advanced stages of the disease.
Radiation therapy harnesses the power of X-ray radiation beams to destroy cancer cells. The radiation is usually delivered using a machine on the outside of the body targeted at the cancerous area (external beam radiation), but it can also be placed directly into the body close to the tumor (brachytherapy). As previously mentioned, it can be used by itself or in combination with other treatments to rid the disease or relieve symptoms of advanced stages.