What Is The Esophageal Cancer?
The esophagus is a tube that runs behind your windpipe, between the heart and the spine, made of muscles that connect the throat to the stomach. It transfers food or anything you eat directly to the stomach in a unidirectional way.
Esophageal cancer typically occurs in the cells called ‘mucosa’ that line the inside of the esophagus anywhere along its length. The most common initial symptom of esophageal cancer is having trouble swallowing or feeling like the food you eat remains lodged in your throat. Though it might not be apparent initially, this condition aggravates gradually, and the cancer spread worsens over time. Since the esophagus is linked to the intestine and the liver, the esophageal cancer cells can travel to these organs and grow there, a process called ‘metastasis.’
Today, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide, and it is estimated that four out of five patients who develop this condition are men.
Types of Esophageal Cancer:
Treating Esophageal cancers mainly depends on diagnosing their type. And the types are classified based on the cells that abnormally grow into cancer tumors. Such types of esophageal cancers are:
When cancer develops in the mucus-secreting glands in the lower portion of the esophagus, it is called adenocarcinoma. Most cases of esophageal cancers are adenocarcinoma, and the most commonly occur in men worldwide.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma:
When the thin, flat cells that line the esophagus’s surface known as squamous cells develop cancerous growth, it is termed as a squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer usually occurs in the upper and middle portions of the esophagus and most common in chain smokers or alcoholics.
Other Rare Types:
Additional forms of esophageal cancer that are rarely found include lymphoma, sarcoma, malignant melanoma, choriocarcinoma, small cell carcinoma, etc.
Common Symptoms Of Esophageal Cancer:
Esophageal cancer’s initial symptoms almost always include consistent pain and difficulty while swallowing foods, a condition known as dysphagia. Other than this condition, one might also experience:
- Frequent chest pain, contractive pressure, or heartburns that don’t respond to OTC medications
- Drastic weight loss without your efforts
- Constant indigestion
- Coughing or hoarseness in voice
- Chocking on food while eating
- Change in stool color which later becomes black, bright red, or like tar
- Feeling full after eating little food.
Common Causes Of Esophageal Cancer:
Esophageal cancer can be caused by various physical disorders, such as:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD):
Here, conditions like acidity, indigestion, or an unhealthy diet cause refluxes that push gastrointestinal acids and undigested food back up the esophagus to the throat.
It is a condition where the mucosal cells lining the lower portion of the esophagus undergo an abnormal (metaplastic) change. People with GERD are at higher risk of developing it.
This is a severe condition that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscular ring that closes the esophagus and separates it from the stomach. Due to Achalasia, this LES fails to open up while swallowing food and causes reflux or choking.
Other indirect causes of esophageal cancer might include:
- Heavy smoking and alcohol consumption
- Being overweight and following an unhealthy diet
- Being exposed to harmful radiations for treatments or during work
- Genetic mutations in the DNA that lead to the formation of tumors in the esophagus
Diagnosis of Esophageal Cancer:
Since most esophageal cancer symptoms are common health problems, a proper diagnosis is the best way to confirm any cancer cells in the esophagus. This diagnosis can be performed in the following ways:
Here, a thin and flexible tube equipped with a camera at its tip, known as the endoscope, is inserted down the throat towards the esophagus. The presence of cancer tumors or other abnormalities is confirmed via a video feed.
Biopsy also uses an endoscope and thin surgical tools that are passed down the throat to collect cell samples from different parts of the esophagus.
Barium Swallow Study:
Here, you are asked to drink a solution that contains barium contents and put it under an X-ray scan. The barium covers the esophageal surface and is illuminated by the X-rays, showing abnormalities on the surface.
Treatments for Esophageal Cancers:
If you’re diagnosed with esophagus cancer, our cancer specialist, Dr. Sanjay Deshmukh, will consider its type, overall health, age, and expectations to assign you the most suitable treatment plan. Your treatment plan will include a combination of various methods used to treat symptoms and tumor growth. Some of these treatment methods may include:
A combination of chemicals and drugs are used to target and kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is a long process that usually continues before and after you undergo surgery. This is the initial step towards treating most cancers and can be combined with most other cancer treatments. If cancer has metastasized, chemotherapy helps in relieving its symptoms of esophageal cancer.
Here, high-energy beams, such as X-rays and protons, are used to kill cancer cells from either outside or inside the body. You may be placed in an isolated space where an external energy beam is targeted over the cancer cells in the esophagus. Brachytherapy is another method where the radiation device is placed inside the body close to the cancer tumors. It causes mild and temporary side-effects.
As a final resort, our doctors might suggest undergoing esophageal surgery for directly removing the cancerous tumors from the esophagus. If the cancer spread is chronic, the surgery might also be performed to remove a small part of the esophagus, a procedure known as ‘esophagectomy,’ or even some part of the stomach may be removed along with the affected portion of the esophagus, in which case the procedure is known as ‘esophagogastrectomy.’
With the right diagnosis and treatment plan of a cancer specialist, esophageal cancers can be treated quickly. Dr. Sanjay Deshmukh is a highly regarded cancer specialist in Pune who has handled several such cases at our Deccan Clinic. To learn more about his expert cancer treatments provided by Dr. Deshmukh, visit the Deccan Clinic website. You can also book your consultation appointment with him and discuss all possible options for improving your health.