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Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Esophageal cancer is a condition when cancer forms in the esophagus, the part of the digestive tract that connects the esophagus to the stomach. Check out a full explanation of the symptoms and how to treat it in the following review.

Esophageal Cancer: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What is Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer is cancer that attacks the esophagus (gullet). This cancer begins to develop in the esophageal mucosa and can spread throughout the esophageal wall and even spread to other organs of the body.

This condition can happen to anyone, but it is more common in men than women. It should be noted, this cancer is included in the ranks of the 6th leading cause of death in the world.

Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

At first the condition does not cause symptoms, but new symptoms can be felt when it is in an advanced stage

Here are some symptoms that are important for you to recognize, including:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Chest pain.
  • Weight loss.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Hiccup.
  • Vomit.
  • Bone pain.
  • Bleeding in the esophagus.

Experiencing one or more of the above symptoms does not mean you have esophageal cancer. Some of the conditions above can be caused by other conditions.

When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?

Although not all of the above symptoms are a sign of cancer esophagus, but if these symptoms worry you, consult a doctor immediately to get the right diagnosis.

Causes of Esophageal Cancer

It’s not known exactly what causes the condition. However, several risk factors are thought to be the cause. Some experts suspect that the habit of smoking or consuming alcoholic beverages can damage the DNA in cells in the lining of the esophagus, causing esophageal cancer.

Other conditions that occur in the lining of the esophagus such as long-term irritation with reflux, Barrett’s esophagus, achalasia, Plummer-Vinson syndrome, or scarring from ingesting alkalis, can also cause abnormalities or mutations in DNA.

DNA mutations cause abnormal cells to grow faster than normal cells. This condition can also prevent abnormal cells from dying, a condition that eventually accumulates and becomes a tumor in the esophagus.

Also Read: 10 Most Common Types of Cancer in Men

Risk Factors

Although the exact cause is unknown, there are various factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing this cancer, including:

  • Gender. A man has a 3 to 4 times higher risk of developing this cancer than a woman.
  • Age. People ages 45 to 70 have the highest risk.
  • Consumption of tobacco or smoking. Tobacco contains carcinogens that cause cancer.
  • Alcohol. Excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages can increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Barrett’s esophagus. People with this disease are more likely to have adenocarcinoma.
  • Dietary habit. Rarely eating fruit, vegetables or drinking certain vitamins and minerals can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

The diagnosis is usually found based on the appearance of symptoms. A number of commonly recommended tests include:

  • Endoscope. Examination using a tool equipped with a camera and inserted into the esophagus to the esophagus. The goal is to see the condition of the esophageal wall.
  • Biopsy. The doctor takes an abnormal tissue sample and sends it to a laboratory for examination.
  • Barium swallow test. The patient is asked to swallow a barium chemical to make the images produced by the x-ray scan clearer.
  • Imaging test. Some of the checks include CT scans, PET scansand MRI, used to see the spread of cancer cells.

Types of Esophageal Cancer

The two main types of cancer develop based on the two types of cells that line the esophagus, including:

1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of cancer begins with the growth of cancer cells that are flat and thin on the wall of the esophagus. Cancer cells are usually found in the upper or middle part of the esophagus, but it is possible to appear anywhere.

2. Adenocarcinoma

This type of cancer appears first in cells that produce fluids, such as mucus. Adenocarcinoma is generally found in the lower part of the esophagus.

Also Read: Get to know the function of the esophagus and the risk of disease

Esophageal Cancer Stage

The condition develops in four stages, the higher the stage the higher the severity of the cancer.

Stage 1 esophageal cancer tumors are small, about 7 centimeters or less and confined to the esophagus.

Stage 2 esophageal cancer tumors grow larger in the esophagus. At this stage, there is no evidence of cancer spreading to lymph nodes or other parts.

Stage 3 esophageal cancer tumors have grown outside the esophagus and can spread to nearby tissues or organs. The cancer probably won’t spread to nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 4 esophageal cancer tumors can be large and grow outside the esophagus. The disease may have spread to lymph nodes or to distant parts of the body such as the liver or abdominal cavity.

Esophageal Cancer Treatment

How to treat esophageal cancer depends on several factors, including the stage and extent of the cancer. Some of the treatments that can be done include:

1. Immunotherapy

The first way to treat throat cancer is using immunotherapy drugs, which are designed to get the body’s immune system to detect and attack cancer cells.

However, immunotherapy is not recommended for all patients and response to treatment may vary.

2. Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy drugs may be recommended for people with certain esophageal cancers to target specific proteins that can help the cancer develop.

This targeted therapy as an alternative to surgery or as a means of treating advanced esophageal cancer that has not responded to other treatments.

3. Radiation Therapy

When the cancer has entered an advanced stage, the doctor may suggest radiation therapy; which is often done in conjunction with chemotherapy. If this therapy helps shrink the tumor, surgery may be possible.

4. Operation

This is a procedure that can treat early stage adenocarcinoma. Surgical oncologists will perform surgery to treat stage I and stage II esophageal cancer.

Meanwhile, for advanced esophageal cancer, it will usually be combined with other forms of treatment, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy. This method aims to shrink the tumor before considering surgery.

If the cancer is in the esophagus, nearby lymph nodes are also removed during surgery to test for the presence of cancer.

5. Interventional Radiology

Esophageal cancer treatment requires accuracy and precision. Thus, interventional radiology can produce images of tumors in the esophagus and perform image-guided interventional procedures real-time.

Also Read: Is it true that burnt food can trigger cancer? Fact Check!

Esophageal Cancer Complications

If not treated properly, this cancer can cause several complications, including:

  • Tracheo-esophageal fistula. The hole between the esophagus and throat so that food can enter the lungs and cause choking.
  • Anemia. Bleeding from cancer can cause blood shortages.
  • Weight loss. Cancer cells can interfere with the body’s metabolism.
  • Pneumonia. Lung infection can occur due to inhaling foreign objects.
  • Metastases. Cancer cells spread to other organs of the body.

Esophageal Cancer Prevention

Several ways can be done to prevent or reduce the risk of this cancer, including:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Eat fruit and vegetables.
  • Maintain ideal body weight.
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