Knowledge, Awareness and Excellent Care: Your Best Defense Against Esophageal Cancer
What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer is cancer that begins in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus, and it can occur anywhere along the esophagus. A long, hollow tube that runs from your throat to your stomach, the esophagus transports the food you eat to the stomach to be digested.
For 2017, the American Cancer Society estimates that about 16,940 new esophageal cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. (13,360 in men and 3,580 in women). The two most common types of this disease are:
- Adenocarcinoma (AC) – This is the most prevalent cancer of the esophagus among Americans. Tumors are usually found in the lower parts of the esophagus, near the stomach.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) – The second most common type of esophageal cancer in the U.S, SCC is the leading type of esophageal cancer in other parts of the world. SCC tumors are typically found in the upper part of the esophagus.
Are you at risk for esophageal cancer?
Several factors can affect your risk of cancer of the esophagus. Some increase the risk for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, and others make you more vulnerable to squamous cell carcinoma esophageal cancer.
- Age – As you age, your chances of developing esophageal cancer increase. Fewer than 15% of cases are diagnosed in patients younger than 55 years of age.
- Gender – Men are three times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer.
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – This condition can reveal itself through heartburn or pain in the center of the chest, but not always. Some people with GERD have no symptoms at all, yet they’re still at elevated risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
- Barrett’s esophagus – Another leading risk factor for developing esophageal cancer, Barrett’s esophagus can occur after long-term exposure to stomach acid. Eventually, the acid damages the lining of the esophagus, causing the cells in the lining to be replaced by gland cells. Gland cells are more resistant to stomach acid damage. People with Barrett’s esophagus are at an elevated risk for developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus because the gland cells that line the esophagus can turn abnormal and malignant over time.
- Use of tobacco and alcohol – A person who smokes a pack of cigarettes per day is twice as likely to develop adenocarcinoma of the esophagus as a non-smoker. Someone who abuses alcohol is more susceptible for developing squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. The risk for developing both types of cancer increases if you smoke and drink alcohol in excess.
Who should get screened for esophageal cancer?
Although there are no screening tests suggested for the general public, your doctor may recommend that you get screened if he or she feels you are at greater risk for developing esophageal cancer. If you have Barrett’s Esophagus, you should get routine upper endoscopy exams.
Having one or even several of the risk factors for developing esophageal cancer does not mean you will get the disease. But, if you or a family member have any risk factors, or if you think your risk for getting esophageal cancer is high, talk to your doctor about your screening options.
Stay alert to the symptoms of esophageal cancer
Even if you are in good health and feel your risk for getting this type of cancer is low, it’s imperative to be aware of the signs and symptoms, especially since regular screenings are only recommended for high-risk individuals. Be sure to report the following symptoms to your doctor if they begin for no apparent reason, and persist:
- Trouble swallowing
- Chest pain
- Weight loss
- Chronic cough
- Bone pain
Treating esophageal cancer
How advanced or contained the cancer is will play major a role in how your doctor treats it. Your RCCA team will help you learn about and carefully consider all your treatment options to achieve the best possible outcome. Some approaches commonly taken include:
- Surgery – From removing small tumors during early-stage cancer to removing parts of the esophagus, stomach and lymph nodes, surgery can be performed alone or in combination with other techniques.
- Radiation – Designed to pinpoint and kill cancer cells in the esophagus, radiation may be used with chemotherapy, before or after surgery.
- Chemotherapy – These drugs enter the bloodstream through a vein or by mouth, and can reach all areas of the body.
- Targeted therapy – These drugs zero in on specific individual characteristics to destroy “cancer-friendly” elements in the esophagus that aid cancer growth. The drugs attack conditions such as excessive HER2 protein on the cell surfaces and blood vessels that can help cancer grow and spread.
- Endoscopic treatments – In early stage esophageal cancers, doctors can often insert an endoscope (a long, flexible tube) down the throat and into the esophagus to remove small tumors. This procedure can also treat Barrett’s esophagus or dysplasia (the presence of abnormal pre-cancerous cells).
Count on RCCA’s personalized, patient-first approach to treating esophageal cancer
The most advanced, effective therapies are vital to helping you win the battle against esophageal cancer, and you will find them at RCCA. Look deeper into the largest network of cancer care physicians in the nation, and you’ll find a profound dedication to crafting your care around your very individual needs. We want you to understand every aspect of your diagnosis, your treatment options and every benefit and risk, no matter how big or small. We are here to help you cope with treatment side effects, manage pain and support you after treatment. To find out how our experienced, dedicated team can make all the difference, call RCCA today.