What is Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer is a form of cancer which strikes the esophagus, the long tube which connects the mouth to the stomach. Unfortunately, esophageal cancer often goes undetected in the early stages, meaning that by the time it is caught, the prognosis can be quite grim. However, there are some steps which can be taken to reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer, and the deadliness of this form of cancer underscores the need for regular medical check-ups which include attention to issues like heartburn.

There are two primary forms of esophageal cancer: squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma. Both start in the inner lining of the esophagus, spreading slowly outwards. Because the esophagus has limited sensation and it's deep in the chest, people may not realize that they have a problem for some time. In the early stages, esophageal cancer can feel like heartburn or acid reflux disease, and people may not realize how serious the situation is. By the time they have difficulty swallowing and start experiencing weight loss and vomiting, the cancer may have metastasized to neighboring organs.


Several factors can increase someone's risk of developing esophageal cancer. The use of alcohol and tobacco products is often a contributing factor, as is a diet low in fiber and vitamins. Heavier people appear to be at increased risk of esophageal cancer, probably because they are at increased risk of developing acid reflux disease and complications like Barrett's Esophagus. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and limiting consumption of alcohol and tobacco can decrease the risk of esophageal cancer and many other cancers.

Once esophageal cancer is identified with an esophagoscopy or barium swallow, it must be graded to determine the extent of the cancer. Additional medical testing may be used to grade the cancer, including medical imaging studies. After the cancer is graded, doctor and patient can discuss treatment options. Patients will typically meet with an oncologist and a surgeon to talk about all of the aspects of treatment.

Excision of the cancer is critical to treatment. The affected section of the esophagus can be removed, with doctors reconnecting the esophagus after the cancerous portion is taken out. In severe cases, part of the small bowel may be used to replace the missing portion, or part of the stomach may be removed along with the esophagus. Radiation and chemotherapy can be used after surgery, with the goal of preventing the recurrence of cancerous tissue. However, because esophageal cancer is often diagnosed late, making it hard to treat, survival rates as of 2008 hovered around five percent over five years.



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Post 1

An interesting bit of information I read about. A longer term Japanese study found that people who drink coffee on a daily basis have less of a chance of developing esophageal cancer.

The chances of developing the cancer were reduced by as much as 50%. Not bad for something that most people enjoy drinking anyway.

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