Esophageal Cancer: What You Need To Know
The esophagus is a muscular, hollow tube located between the trachea and the spine that carries anything eaten by a person from the throat to the stomach. When a person swallows food or drinks water, the walls of the esophagus contract to push the food or liquids down to a person's stomach. It is moist and makes swallowing easier.
Esophageal cancer is the third most common cancer of the digestive system and seventh when talking about cancer deaths. It can develop from any part of the esophagus and spread to the nearest lymph nodes, the glands responsible in producing and storing infection-fighting cells.
Esophageal cancer is found more in Northern China and Northern Iran. It is also found in the United States but is confined in urban areas. It is also more prevalent in men over 50 years old and affects one in 20,000 people.
There are two main types of esophageal cancer, namely, squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma is said to come from smoking and frequent consumption of alcoholic drinks. It usually develops in the middle part of the esophagus.
Adenocarcinoma occurs in the lower part of the esophagus and develops in the esophagus's lining. Complications due to the development of adenocarcinoma in the esophagus can cause a condition called Barrett's esophagus.
Esophageal cancer, in the beginning stages, usually will not have any symptoms. However, as the disease develops, the most common symptom is having difficulty in swallowing foods and even liquids. Most will feel pressure as the food goes down and some will even vomit what they have tried to swallow. These will cause weight loss as the cancer cells develop and spread.
There are times when a person might also experience coughing up and vomiting of blood. There are also pains in the throat, breastbone (sternum) or between the shoulder blades.
Doctors, while looking and listening at the symptoms, will ask a patient's medical history, including other diseases he might be feeling. They will also ask if the patient is an alcohol or cigarette user and might do other tests to make sure if it is really esophageal cancer.
Doctors will also try to get cells in the esophagus (by use of a needle) for microscopic evaluation. Blood tests will be looked into to find if anemia is present. Liver tests will also be done.
Once the doctors are sure that a patient has esophageal cancer, the next thing they would do is to determine what stage the disease has grown. They will also try to find out to what extent and what other organs are already affected. Treatment of the disease will depend on these findings.
Treatment of the malignant cancer cells in the esophagus would depend mostly on how much it has already spread. If it is confined in the esophagus, surgery is the most recommended way of treating it. In some cases, surgeons will try to attach the remaining esophagus to the stomach. In cases where this is not possible, a plastic tube (or a section of the intestine) is used.
Other ways of treatment such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy can also be done but are not as effective as surgery.
Esophageal cancer is one of the deadliest cancers and the easiest step to avoid having it is by living healthy and cutting off bad habits such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes.