Esophageal cancer is a relatively rare disease, but it is an aggressive and deadly form of cancer. Esophageal cancer accounts for approximately 1 percent of all cancers and it will kill an estimated 15,590 Americans in 2015, according to the American Cancer Society. Esophageal cancer is diagnosed in men three times more than in women.
The 5-year survival rate is approximately 20 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Advancements in esophageal cancer treatments and detection techniques have greatly improved survival rates since the 1970s. Ongoing research shows potential for further improvements in esophageal cancer outcomes.
You can significantly decrease the possibility of an esophageal cancer diagnosis by eliminating specific lifestyle decisions. Read on to learn more about esophageal cancer and how you can lower your risk.
What is Esophageal Cancer?
The esophagus is a 10- to 13-inch-long tube connecting the throat to the stomach. Esophageal cancers begin with the growth of malignant cells in the esophagus. Esophageal cancers are separated into two main groups: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
- Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the cells that form the lining of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma can begin anywhere throughout the length of the esophagus.
- Adenocarcinoma generally begins toward the bottom of the esophagus where it joins the stomach. Adenocarcinoma is more frequently diagnosed than squamous cell carcinoma.
Who is at risk for developing esophageal cancer?
Certain lifestyle decisions are clearly linked with an increased risk for developing esophageal cancer. Tobacco use and alcohol consumption could account for around 90 percent of all esophageal cancers, according to the National Cancer Institute. Abstaining from tobacco use and reducing alcohol consumption can drastically reduce an individual’s risk for developing esophageal cancer.
Individuals with a history of certain health conditions are also at greater risk for developing esophageal cancer. These include a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease, Barrett’s esophagus, human papillomavirus, tylosis and achalasia. Other risk factors include age and obesity.
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer is most often diagnosed after a patient begins experiencing symptoms. Symptoms of esophageal cancer are nonspecific. These symptoms are common to many conditions. These include:
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Chest pain.
- Weight loss.
- Sore throat or hoarseness.
- Frequent coughing.
- Excessive vomiting.
Are there any screening exams for esophageal cancer?
There are no commonly agreed screening guidelines for esophageal cancer. Ongoing research is investigating different screening techniques.
Physicians may recommend some high-risk patients, such as those with Barrett’s esophagus, receive screening with routine endoscopy. During this procedure, a thin, flexible tube equipped with a camera is inserted into the throat to inspect the lining of the esophagus.
Patients who smoke, use other tobacco products, drink excessively and who have other risk factors for esophageal cancer should talk to their physician about ways to reduce risk. For more information about esophageal cancer or if you have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, please contact us.