What is Esophageal Cancer?

The esophagus is a long, muscular tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. The esophagus is made up of several layers of muscle that contract to help move food down the tube and into the stomach. Esophageal cancer results when abnormal cells grow out of control in esophageal tissue. Eventually the cells form a mass called a tumor. There are two main types of esophageal cancer:

  1. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the cells (called squamous cells) that line the esophagus. This cancer usually affects the upper and middle part of the esophagus.
  2. Adenocarcinoma develops in the tissue that produces mucus that aids in swallowing. It generally occurs in the lower part of the esophagus.

What are the causes of Esophageal Cancer?

It's not exactly clear what causes esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer occurs when cells in the esophagus develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. The changes 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.

What are the symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer may have no obvious symptoms in its early stages. The symptom people notice first is difficulty swallowing. As the tumor grows, it narrows the opening of the esophagus, making swallowing difficult and/or painful. Other symptoms of esophageal cancer can include:

  1. Pain in the throat or back, behind the breastbone, or between the shoulder blades
  2. Vomiting or coughing up blood
  3. Heartburn
  4. Hoarseness or chronic cough
  5. Unintentional weight loss

What are the treatment options for Esophageal Cancer?

  1. Surgery may involve removal of entire esophagus or esophagectomy. If a patient is not in a position to a removal of the whole esophagus, an esophageal stent may be placed across the tumour block to allow eating.
  2. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be administered before and after the surgery.
  3. Targeted therapy, endoscopic treatments, and photodynamic therapy are also the treatment procedure for esophagus cancer depending on the necessity of the patients.