The esophagus in adults is a muscular tube about 10 inches long that helps move food from the mouth to the stomach. It is composed of a mucosal lining, submucosa, muscle tissue and an outer covering layer of cells called the adventitia above the diaphragm and the serosa below the diaphragm.
Cancer cells are malignant forms of body cells that often grow to form tissue masses or tumors that can spread to other organs.
The two main types of esophageal cancer are adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.
Risk factors for both types are age 65 or greater, male sex, smoking, heavy drinking, a diet poor in fruits and vegetables, obesity, acid reflux, and Barrett’s esophagus.
Common symptoms of esophageal cancer include food getting stuck in the esophagus and vomiting, painwith swallowing, chest and/or back pain, heartburn, weight loss, and a hoarse voice.
Diagnosis is performed by a barium swallow test, endoscopy, and biopsy (definitive test).
There are five stages of esophageal cancer (stages 0 to IV), with 0 being the least invasive and IV the most aggressive with spread to distant organs.
Treatment of this cancer is individually based on the patient’s health and cancer stage; the options vary from surgery,chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these options (also, some patients may be considered for laser or photodynamic therapy
Surgery for this cancer may involve part or all of the esophagus; other structures (part of the stomach, lymph nodes or other parts of affected organs may be removed).
Radiation therapy uses high energy rays focused to kill cancer cells; it is often used together with chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells; it is often used together with radiation and/or surgery and often requires cycles or repeated doses of drugs.
In general, patients are encouraged to get a second opinion about their diagnosis and treatment for esophageal cancer.
Side effects of treatment for esophageal cancer may include the need for supportive care to control pain, infections such as pneumonia, difficulty in swallowing, depression, nausea, vomiting, requiring a feeding tube, requiring a special diet, weight loss, and may need vitamin and mineral supplements
Follow-up care for monitoring and or additional treatments is usually required.
Supportive care can be provided for esophageal cancer patients; this should be done by the patient’s treatment team, as well as by social workers, counselors, clergy, and many others.
Research about esophageal cancer is ongoing; the treating doctors may be able to link patients to other researchers that are doing clinical trials of the newest treatments for this cancer.