Esophageal cancer is defined by cancer that develops in the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The main function of your esophagus is to carry food and liquid to your stomach after it is consumed, therefore aiding in the digestive process. Cancers can develop anywhere within the esophagus. Often, esophageal cancer begins by affecting the cells in the lining on the inside of the esophagus.
There are two main types of this condition, squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma frequently occurs in the upper portion of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs less commonly than adenocarcinoma, which frequently develops in the lower part of the esophagus.
Certain demographic factors may put you at an enhanced risk for developing esophageal cancer. For example, men are more likely to develop the condition than women. Also, African Americans tend to develop the condition more than Caucasians do, and the disease is much more common in adults over the age of 55. The exact cause of esophageal cancer is unknown, but smoking, alcohol abuse and obesity are all understood to increase your risk of developing the condition. Also, frequent or chronic heartburn and acid reflux increase your risk for the disease. Due to this, patients that suffer from GERD are often considered at risk of developing esophageal cancer. This is because over time repeated acid reflux can alter the lining of the esophagus, which is another condition that also enhances your risk for esophageal cancer called Barrett’s esophagus.
Esophageal cancer in its early stages often does not show any signs or symptoms. Cancer is most easily and successfully treated if it is found early, so if you do suffer from GERD or have developed Barrett’s esophagus your physician may recommend that you participate in regular screenings. Screenings for esophageal cancer are completed with an endoscopy exam, a procedure that comes with certain risks of its own. Due to the risks that are associated with the endoscopy your physician may not recommend routine screenings unless you suffer from Barrett’s Esophagus and the benefits of the endoscopy outweigh the risks. You can discuss the pros and cons of regular screenings for esophageal cancer with your physician.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms associated with esophageal cancer you should speak with your physician immediately.
Common symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
- Difficulty swallowing, which often leads to choking
- Unexpected weight loss
- Chest pain
- Burning or pressure in the chest
- Frequent cough
The best ways to prevent esophageal cancer is to quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and also to maintain a healthy weight level.