Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the esophagus ( a muscular tube that serves as a conduit for moving drinks and food from the mouth to the stomach). There are two major types of esophageal cancers:
Squamous cell carcinoma: This affects the epithelial cells that line the esophagus. It mostly occurs in the upper and middle portions of the esophagus.
Adrenocarcinoma: This arises within a segment of Barrett’s esophagus or from the esophageal glands. It mostly occurs in the lower portion of the esophagus
The other rare types of esophageal cancer are small cell carcinoma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma and choriocarcinoma.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact cause of esophageal cancer is unknown, but some chronic irritation of esophagus may increase the risk of esophageal cancer. The following are the factors that irritate the cells of your esophagus, which may contribute to the changes that cause esophageal cancer:
Smoking and drinking alcohol
Having gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Having precancerous changes in the cells of esophagus
Having bile reflux
Nutritional deficiencies related to lack of fresh fruits and vegetables
Drinking hot beverages
There will be no signs and symptoms for esophageal cancer until the disease has reached an advanced stage. The most common signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include;
Difficulty in swallowing or dysphagia
Unexplained weight loss
Indigestion or burning
Chest pain pressure or burning
Pain upon swallowing
Chronic cough or hoarseness
Vomiting blood or materials like coffee grounds
If a person is suspected for esophagus cancer, the following tests and exams will be needed to confirm the diagnosis:
CT Scan : During a scan, X rays are used to produce detailed cross sectional images of the body. Before the test, the patient may ask to drink a liquid called oral contrast, which helps to outline the esophagus and intestines.
MRI scan : This type of scan makes use of resonsnce of particles to provide detailed images of soft tissues in the body.
Endoscopy : An endoscope (a narrow tube with tiny video camera and light) is used to look inside the esophagus to diagnose esophageal cancer and the extent of its spread.Also used to take biopsy of the esophagus.
Barium Swallow (Esophagram) : An X ray will be taken after the patient swallows a liquid containing barium. So the tumor or other unusual changes can be seen easily, since the barium coats the surface of the esophagus.
Biopsy : A biopsy is the removal of small amount of tissue from the suspicious area of examination.
The following are some of the common treatment options for esophageal cancer: