Symptoms, Causes & Treatments for Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer affects the esophagus, which is a long, hollow tube connecting your throat to your stomach. The main function of the esophagus is to move the food to your stomach for digestion. The cancer usually affects the cells inside of the esophagus, but it can affect any part of the esophagus. Men are at a greater risk of getting esophageal cancer as compared to women. Knowledge about esophageal cancer symptoms can help you seek timely medical attention, which in turn improves your chances of survival.

Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

There are a number of symptoms associated with esophageal cancer. For instance:

  • You may have trouble swallowing. It is usually the most common symptom and makes you feel as if the food has stuck in your chest or throat. It may not be that severe in the beginning but gets worse with time. With the size of the esophagus getting smaller, you may be forced to change your eating habits. After some time, it becomes difficult to even eat softer foods, and that is when the cancer has already reached an advanced stage.
  • You may have chest pain. Some people with esophageal cancer may develop pain in the middle of their chest. It could be more like a burning sensation in the chest. Remember, these symptoms could simply be the result of heartburn.
  • You may lose weight. If you continue to lose weight even without trying and you have trouble swallowing your food, you may have esophageal cancer. This weight loss is usually the result of not eating enough due to the swallowing problem. An increase in metabolism and decrease in appetite from the cancer may also lead to weight loss.

In addition, some people develop other symptoms too, such as vomiting, chronic cough, hoarseness, bone pain, hiccups, and bleeding into the esophagus.

When to See a Doctor

 It is a good idea to talk to your doctor in case you think you have esophageal cancer symptoms. Some people are diagnosed with a precancerous condition called Barrett's esophagus. They need to be more careful with everything and seek medical attention to treat chronic acid reflux. If you have been diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, you should go for cancer screening after regular intervals.

Causes and Risk Factors of Esophagus Cancer

What causes esophageal cancer is still not clear, but it may have something to do with abnormalities in the DNA of the cells in the esophagus. These mutations can lead to quick multiplication of the cells and these mutations also keep them from dying after regular intervals. Overtime, those cells will turn into tumors.

Some experts are of the view that smoking, acid reflux, and alcohol consumption can irritate the esophagus cells and lead to cancer. Many other conditions can also irritate the esophagus, such as Barrett's esophagus. Anyone can develop esophagus cancer, but it is more common in elderly people. It is more commonly found in men, and especially in African –American men. Also, your risk of getting esophageal cancer goes up with age.

How Is It Treated?

It is important to have information about esophageal cancer symptoms, so you could identify the issue and get treatment early. Quite like other types of cancer, it is possible to treat esophageal cancer when caught early. The problem is that most people do not experience any serious symptoms until the cancer has already moved into an advanced stage.

Many factors go into determining how the esophageal cancer is treated. The stage of the cancer is important, but it is equally important to consider the overall health of the patient before determining the best treatment option. Here are some possible treatment options:

  • Surgery: Your doctor may recommend the removal of the affected part of the esophagus. In some cases, it is important to remove all of the esophagus.
  • Radiation Therapy: The use of radiation therapy may help kill cancer cells, so it is always a possible option.
  • Chemotherapy: It involves taking specific drugs to help treat cancer cells in the body. It is often used along with radiation therapy for good results.
  • Photodynamic Therapy: This treatment procedure involves using a special laser light to kill cancer cells. This is usually an option only when the cancer is caught early.
  • Electrocoagulation: This treatment option is suitable to kill early cancer cells. It involves using electric current to eliminate cancer cells.

In case you have a precancerous condition, your doctor may recommend going for endoscopic mucosal resection. During the procedure, your doctor will remove the inner lining of the esophagus. Similarly, for those in early stages of esophageal cancer, the use of radiofrequency ablation treatment may prove effective.

If you're diagnosed with Esophageal cancer, don't lose faith. Watch a video on a patient's story to get inspired: