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Esophageal cancer

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Esophagus is the hollow tube that carries food from mouth to the stomach. Cancer in the tissue lining of the esophagus is called esophageal cancer.

There are two broad types of esophageal cancer:

Squamous cell carcinoma – the cancer begins in the inner lining of squamous cells, which then progress outward.

Adenocarcinoma- The cancer occurs in the gland cells of the inner lining of esophagus. It happens only after the squamous cells get replaced with gland cells typically in case of Barrett's esophagus.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

The early stage of the cancer doesn’t show any symptoms. However, as the cancer spreads, the person will experience:

  • Trouble and pain in swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Exhaustion
  • GERD, heat burn
  • Hoarse voice with cough
  • Unexplained weight loss

People who are addicted to tobacco products and alcohol, suffer from GERD, already have Barrett's esophagus, are obese, tend to drink hot liquids and are exposed to radiation by some means are vulnerable to developing the cancer.

Diagnosis of Esophageal Cancer

The doctor will assess the symptoms and conduct a physical exam on you along with certain blood tests. You also need to present your medical history before your doctor.

Tests that are performed to confirm cancer are:

  • Endoscopy of the esophagus
  • Barium swallow x ray
  • Biopsy of the inner lining of the esophagus

Once the cancer has been diagnosed, the staging can be done by thoracoscopy, laparoscopy, PET and CT scan of the esophagus.

Stages of Esophageal Cancer

If only non cancerous but abnormal cells are found, then it’s not cancer

Stage 1- Cancerous cells present only in top most cell lining of the esophagus.

Stage 2- Cancer has spread to the deep muscle layer of cells of esophageal lining and may have infected few lymph nodes

Stage 3- Cancer invaded the deepest inner muscle layer of esophagus wall as well as the lymph tissues

Stage 4- Cancer has become completely malignant, spread to other parts of the body

Treatment of Esophageal Cancer

  • Surgery- Esophagectomy is done to remove a portion of the esophagus. Adjacent lymph nodes and a portion of the gastrointestinal tract may also be removed if the cancer has spread in those parts
  • Targeted therapy- Drug is delivered in the body to reduce function of the HER2 gene. This gene produces HER2 protein that helps growth of cancer cells.
  • The patient is also subjected to chemotherapy and radiation therapy for a scheduled period of time

Until the surgical site of the esophagus heals completely, nutrition is provided with a feeding tube that goes directly into the stomach.

Coping with Esophageal Cancer

  • Dealing with cancer and bearing the pain of treatment is undoubtedly challenging. Talk to your doctor and clarify all the doubts that you have in your mind.
  • Make sure you stay active and close your loved ones.
  • Your entire eating pattern might need a change, wherein you will be advised to eat soft foods and liquid varieties. Vitamin supplements are also given by doctors
  • You will have to quit all your addictive bad habits and thrive on a healthy lifestyle

It takes considerable time to eliminate the cancer. However, chances of recurrence are there after many years. It’s better to get yourself screened if you have touched 40 in order to receive early treatment if cancer has been found.

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Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: January 17, 2015