Esophagus is a long and thin tube-like structure that serves as a bridge for transportation of foods and liquids from an individual’s mouth to stomach region. Esophageal cancer is a dreadful disease that is caused due to development of harmful and abnormal cells in patient’s esophagus. It may adversely affect an individual’s digestive system and may lead to fatal conditions if not treated timely. Therefore, early treatment is necessary for curing this disease completely.
Types of Esophageal Cancer
This cancer is classified in terms of the types of abnormalities in cells and tissues present in esophagus. The following list describes the main types of esophageal cancer.
- Adenocarcinomas – These are the most common types of cancers of esophagus. It develops due to formation of abnormal glandular cells in bottom layer of esophagus.
- Squamous Cell Carcinomas – Such type of cancer occurs due to abnormal production of flat cells in topmost as well as middle layer of esophagus.
In addition to this, sarcoma, lymphoma and melanoma are some of the rare types of esophageal cancers.
Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
The given points give out most common signs and symptoms associated with esophageal cancer. However, some patients may not experience any of these symptoms in early phase of esophageal cancer.
- Swallowing Difficulty – It could be a potential sign of esophageal cancer. Therefore, patients suffering from swallowing problems must get a health checkup done before it gets too late.
- Unintended Loss of Weight – A heavy loss of weight all of a sudden is the most common warning sign of cancer of esophagus.
- Chest Pain – Severe pain in chest or pressure after eating regular meals could be a possible indication of esophageal cancer.
- Persistent Cough and Hoarseness – Persistent cough and hoarseness in voice are the major symptoms of esophageal cancer.
- Indigestion and Heartburn – Chronic indigestion and heartburn problem may lead to esophageal cancer over a period. Therefore, patients experiencing such symptoms must visit doctors for availing a precise diagnosis.
Causes and Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer
There are no certain causes that can determine the process of development of esophageal cancer in an individual’s body. However, the given factors may increase the chances of encountering esophageal cancer.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – It is one of the most common types of chronic digestive disorders that causes problems such as inflammation in chest, acidity and heartburn. Patients struggling with GERD are at higher risks of getting cancer of esophagus.
- Smoking and Alcohol – Chain smokers and people who drink alcohol in excessive quantities are at greater risk of developing such cancer as compared to others.
- Barrett’s Esophagus – This is a serious health disorder that causes abnormal changes in inner lining of cells that are present in esophagus. This may be considered as precancerous stage of esophageal cancer. It may lead to cancer if prompt treatment is not given to patients.
- Improper Nutrition and Obesity – People who are obese and do not intake proper foods like fresh fruits and vegetables are likely to develop esophageal cancer in future.
- Bile Reflux – Patients struggling with bile reflux disease have higher chances of developing cancer of esophagus as compared to others.
- Previous Radiation Treatment – Patients who have undergone several radiation treatments for treating other health conditions in past may develop esophageal cancer.
Stages of Esophageal Cancer
The following are the main stages of cancer of esophagus. Patients who get treated in early stages have greater chances of successful outcomes as compared to patients in later stages of esophageal cancer.
- Precancerous Stage – This stage is an indication of development of abnormal cells in esophagus that may result in malignancy over a period.
- Stage 1 – This is the primary stage where abnormal cells start to affect inner lining of esophagus and nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 2 – During this stage, cancer-causing cells begin to invade at a deeper level in esophagus as well as surrounding lymph nodes.
- Stage 3 – This is an advanced stage where cancerous cells invade at deepest level in esophagus as well as lymph nodes that are present around it.
- Stage 4 – This stage indicates most severe condition where cancer-cells spread in entire esophagus as well as other organs of patient’s body.
Diagnosing Esophageal Cancer
During initial consultation, respective oncologists may ask patients regarding their specific symptoms. They may also request them to submit their medical history reports in order to inspect their complete health. Respective doctors may advise the given tests for diagnosing patient’s internal condition.
- Barium Swallow X-Ray Test – During a barium swallow test, patients need to eat a chalky white material which is clinically known as ‘barium’ in order to get properly diagnosed. Respective doctor asks patients to swallow it before undergoing x-ray tests. This helps them to identify current status of patient’s esophagus.
- Endoscopy – During an endoscopy, doctors insert an instrument called as an ‘endoscope’ in patient’s esophagus. Endoscope is a thin and long device that has a high-resolution camera on its one end. Endoscope captures the internal images of esophagus that can clearly determine stage and extent of spread of cancer in patient’s body.
- Biopsy – Biopsy test requires taking a sample of cells or tissues from patient’s esophagus in order to detect the presence of malignant cells in it. Doctors send this sample to a sophisticated medical laboratory for clear diagnosis.
- Additional Imaging Tests – In addition to above-mentioned tests, respective doctors may order imaging tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission test (PET), and computed tomography (CT scan) for obtaining three-dimensional pictures of patient’s esophagus.
Treatment Options for Esophageal Cancer
The following points elaborate the main treatment options for esophageal cancer. Generally, radiation therapy, photodynamic therapy, electrocoagulation and chemotherapy are recommended during early stages of cancer. Whereas, surgery and combination of any of the therapies may be performed for patients in advanced stage of esophageal cancer.
- Radiation Therapy – This therapy involves high-intensity radiations that are used for killing trouble-causing cancer cells in patient’s esophagus. Patients are exposed to a medical device that emits sharp and powerful radiation for a specified amount of time. Patients may need to undergo this therapy for several times in order to eradicate cells contributing to esophageal cancer.
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a medical procedure which involves the use of powerful drugs and medicines for destroying cancerous cells in esophagus. Doctors refer to these drugs as ‘chemo’ drugs. They may be given to patients either in an oral form or through their veins.
- Photodynamic Therapy – Photodynamic therapy is mostly recommended to patients suffering from early stage of esophageal cancer. This therapy involves destroying cancerous cells with the aid of a specialized laser light.
- Electrocoagulation – Electrocoagulation treatment involves destroying esophageal cancer tissues and cells with the help of electric current. In some instances, ‘radiofrequency ablation’ may also be used that uses radiofrequency energy to serve the purpose.
- Esophageal Cancer Surgery – Surgical approach for esophageal cancer involves removal of either a part or entire esophagus in order to halt growth of cancerous cells in an individual’s body. They carefully make incisions around patient’s stomach and perform the surgery under general anesthesia. The procedure which involves removal of a small part of patient’s esophagus is called as ‘esophagectomy’. Whereas, the procedure used for removal of esophagus along with the top region of their stomach is termed as ‘ esophagogastrectomy’. Doctors close the incisions properly at the end which marks the completion of surgery. Doctors usually perform surgery on the basis of patient’s current medical status and their health requirements.
Risks and Complications Associated with Esophageal Cancer Surgery
The following list describes some major health risks and complications associated with esophageal cancer surgery.
- Severe Pain and Infection – Patients may experience severe pain and they may also get an infection at incision site following esophageal cancer surgery.
- Heavy Bleeding – Heavy bleeding may occur after completion of surgery for esophagus cancer.
- Clotting of Blood and Stroke – Clotting of blood and stroke are the major complications associated with esophageal cancer surgery. Patients experiencing any abnormal symptoms must contact their doctors on an immediate basis.
- Pneumonia – Several lung complications including pneumonia are common with esophageal cancer surgery.
- Stomach Injury – Patients may have to face a serious stomach injury following their surgical treatment for cancer of esophagus.
Recovery Following Esophageal Cancer Surgery
Patients may have to encounter severe painful condition following their surgery for esophagus cancer. Respective oncologists are likely to prescribe essential medications that can help them stay pain-free. Patients may also be advised to eat nutritious food and strictly avoid junk and processed food items. Some patients may feel depressed due to such a tough phase of life. For this, patients should try speaking to their loved ones or psychologists. They may also start to perform relaxation activities like meditation or breathing exercises. It will definitely improve their health and bring positive changes in their overall quality of life.
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