Esophageal cancer is a growth of abnormal cells in the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. This tube is called the esophagus.
Most often people who get cancer of the esophagus are middle-aged or older. It is more common in men than in women. African-Americans are also more likely to get this kind of cancer.
The cause of cancer of the esophagus is not known.
You are more at risk for esophageal cancer if you:
As the tumor grows, your esophagus gets narrower. Symptoms in later stages of the cancer may include drooling, spitting up pieces of undigested food, and weight loss. Lung infections caused by liquids spilling over into your windpipe (trachea) are common. You may also have hoarseness and coughing if other tissues near the esophagus are affected by the cancer.
Your healthcare provider will review your health history, ask about your symptoms, and examine you. Tests for esophageal cancer include:
Treatment depends on the size and location of the cancer, your age, and your general health. You may be treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.
Combining surgery with other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy may help some people live longer and with fewer symptoms.
The chance of long-term survival from cancer of the esophagus is usually poor. The chance of cure may be better if the cancer is found early. If you have any of the symptoms and are at a high risk for this disease, see your healthcare provider. This cancer is usually not diagnosed until symptoms appear during the later stages of the disease, and the cancer can spread easily. However, better treatments have helped increase the life span and comfort of people with this disease.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your illness and treatments. Ask about side effects you may have from treatments. You may want to make a list of questions at home and take it with you when you visit your provider. Ask a friend to go with you who can listen, too. If you don't understand something, ask your provider to explain it. Take notes if you need to.
The following guidelines may help control your symptoms:
For more information, contact your local chapter of the American Cancer Society or call 800-ACS-2345. The National Cancer Institute (800-4-CANCER) is another resource. You may also visit their Web sites at http://www.cancer.org or http://www.cancer.gov.
There is no sure way to prevent this kind of cancer. You can reduce your risk of getting it if you don't smoke and if you drink only a moderate amount of alcohol. To catch any problems early, have regular checkups and be aware of any changes in your body. If you suffer from long-standing heartburn, see your healthcare provider because this may be a symptom of a Barrett's esophagus, which can turn into cancer of the esophagus.