Esophageal cancer – cancer that starts in the tube connecting the mouth to the stomach – is a form of gastrointestinal cancer. Esophageal cancer is three to four times more common in men than women. Because of lifestyle-related risk factors including tobacco and alcohol use, esophageal cancer is more common in other parts of the world than here in the United States, where it accounts for about 1% of all cancer diagnoses.
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
The symptoms listed below are common to many conditions and usually do not indicate that you have esophageal cancer – however, if you notice these changes and they are persistent, it’s a good idea to have your doctor check them out. Symptoms that may suggest esophageal cancer include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Chronic cough
- Persistent hiccups
- Back pain
- Blood in the stool
Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer
Chronic Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can lead to a condition Barrett’s Esophagus, in which precancerous cells develop in the lining of the esophagus, raising the risk for esophageal cancer.
Most people don’t need to undergo screening for esophageal cancer because it is so rare. If you have risk factors, however, your doctor may suggest a procedure called endoscopy to examine your esophagus and, based on findings, may recommend undergoing this test on a regular basis. Though sometimes a visual examination is all that’s necessary, very often doctors extract small tissue samples to be tested for the presence of pre-cancerous cells.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In addition to endoscopy, other tests used to determine whether you have esophageal cancer and, if so, its extent, include:
- Chest X-ray
- Barium swallow (also called an upper GI series) to examine the esophagus and stomach
As is true for most types of cancer, esophageal cancer treatment depends on the stage of the disease. Treatments may include:
Additionally, esophageal cancer may be treated with a variety of endoscopic treatments, including:
- Endoscopic mucosal resection
- Argon plasma coagulation
- Esophageal stent