Esophageal Cancer: An overview

Esophageal Cancer: An overview

What Is Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer, an aggressive type of cancer of the esophagus (the long tube connecting the throat and stomach) is the sixth most common cause of death all over the world. The cancer of the esophagus initially arises in the lining of the esophageal wall and occurs anywhere along the length of the tube.

What is Esophageal Cancer

The incidence and occurrence of this cancer vary geographically. Men are more prone to this cancer than women. Risk factors that may lead to esophageal cancer include obesity, consumption of alcohol, use of tobacco, a low-fiber diet, etc.

What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

At its onset, esophageal cancer remains asymptomatic. However, as it advances, it shows symptoms such as:

  • Weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Coughing,
  • Pain in the chest or pressure or burning of the chest 
  • Indigestion

What Causes Esophageal Cancer?

The exact cause of esophageal cancer is unknown. However, it may be due to changes in DNA mutations that result in the uncontrolled growth of its cells.

What Are the Risk Factors Associated with Esophageal Cancer?

  • Advancing age
  • Gender – Men are more likely to develop it than women 
  • Tobacco and alcohol
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Diet
  • Physical activity
  • Obesity
How Many Stages in Esophageal Cancer?

Once a patient is diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the seriousness of the cancer is determined by staging, which helps the healthcare worker in delivering the best treatment. There are five stages in esophageal cancer:

  • Stage 0 – Also called high-grade dysplasia, here, the disease has just developed but is confined to the esophageal lining.
  • Stage 1 – In this initial stage, the cancer has spread deeper into the esophageal tissues but has not reached any organs or lymph nodes.
  • Stage 2 – The cancer has reached the deep-set tissues of the esophageal wall and may affect lymph nodes near the esophagus.
  • Stage 3 – The disease has spread beyond the lymph nodes and tissues near the esophageal wall but does not affect the organs. This stage is characterized by difficulty in swallowing and throat pain.
  • Stage 4 – In this last stage, the cancer has spread and metastasized to other organs of the body.
How to Detect Esophageal Cancer?

Early detection is the key to the better survival of esophageal cancer patients. The screening includes a biopsy (sample of esophageal cells for any abnormality), imaging tests, and thorough examination. If cancer is detected, further staging tests are done to determine its severity.

How to Detect Esophageal Cancer

What Is the Treatment for Esophageal Cancer?

The type of treatment depends on the stage of cancer. Surgery can be performed if the cancer has been detected early, i.e., before it has spread to other parts. Chemotherapy (use of chemicals) is employed before or after surgery to reduce cancer cells. Radiotherapy (use of high-energy radiation) is also utilized along with chemotherapy to prevent advanced symptoms.

Is Esophageal Cancer Curable?

Yes, esophageal cancer is curable if detected early, but the cure rate is low. Its curability depends on factors like the stage the cancer was detected at and how early it was detected. Stage 4 patients have a low chance of survival. They might have between a few months to one year to live.

  1. What are the early signs of esophageal cancer?

    The early signs of esophageal cancer include: 

    • Difficulty in swallowing
    • Regurgitating food after swallowing
    • Weight gain
    • Chest pain
    • Hoarse voice 
    • A feeling of something being stuck in the chest

    For further clarifications, get a free opinion from our experts at Yashoda Hospitals. 

  2. Can MRI detect esophageal cancer?

    Yes, oesophageal cancer can be detected by MRI. This is a very useful technique for detecting esophageal cancer and detecting whether it has spread to other organs of the body (metastases). It is better than a CT scan, as it shows better soft-tissue contrast with a clear image.

  3. How to prevent esophageal cancer?

    Esophageal cancer can be prevented in various ways, including:

    • Consuming less alcohol
    • Avoid smoking
    • If you are suffering from gastroesophageal disease and have frequent heartburn consult a doctor
    • Maintaining a healthy body weight
    • Consuming fruits and vegetables regularly
    • Physical activity
  4. Can acid reflux cause esophageal cancer?

    Yes, gastroesophageal reflux disease(GERD) can lead to esophageal cancer. If left untreated, it can turn into a serious condition that can damage the inner lining of the esophagus, which might ultimately lead to esophageal cancer. Patients with GERD for a long time must let the doctor know about it.

  5. Is esophageal cancer rare?

    Esophageal cancer is not a common type of cancer. Statistics in India have shown 47,000 new cases arise every year, and about 42,000 deaths occur every year. Also, it has been reported that the northeast region of India shows more prevalence of this cancer. Among the two types of esophageal cancer, adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, the former is more common.

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