The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal cancer is the growth of cancer cells in this tube.
There are two main types of esophageal cancer:
- Squamous cell cancer—from the cells that line the upper part of the esophagus
- Adenocarcinoma—from cells where the esophagus meets the stomach
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Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.
Esophageal cancer is more common in men, and in people aged 50 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of esophageal cancer include:
- Smoking, or smokeless tobacco use, such as chewing tobacco or snuff
- Excess alcohol
- History of gastroesophageal reflux, especially if this has caused Barrett's esophagus
- Achalasia (chronic dilation of the esophagus)
- Radiation therapy
- Damaged esophagus from toxic substances, such as lye
- History of head and/or neck cancer
- Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
- Certain rare genetic conditions, such as Plummer Vinson syndrome and tylosis
Esophageal cancer may cause:
- Trouble swallowing
- Painful swallowing
- Weight loss
- Cough (from aspiration)
- Hoarse voice
- Pain in the throat, back, chest
- Nausea, vomiting
- Coughing up blood
- Black tarry stools
Tests to look for esophageal tumors may include:
- Esophagoscopy with biopsy
- Barium swallow
Imaging tests may be used to determine if or where esophageal cancer has spread. These include:
- CT scan
- PET-CT scan
- Bone scan
Options may include one or more of the following:
- Endoscopic Resectiom
- Open Esophagectomy
- Radiation Therapy
- Chemoradiotherapy or Combined Modality Therapy
- Trimodality Therapy
- Laser Therapy
- Photodynamic Therapy
To help reduce your chance of developing esophageal cancer, take these steps:
- Don't smoke or use other tobacco products. If you smoke, find out how you can quit.
- Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
- Get medical treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
- If you are overweight or obese, talk with your doctor or a dietitian about losing weight.
- Talk with your doctor the human papilloma virus vaccine (HPV) to prevent HPV infection.