Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the esophagus, a tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells. The accumulation of these extra cells forms a mass of tissue called a tumor.
According to the type of cells that are involved, esophageal cancers are classified as:
- Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus: It is the most common type of esophageal cancer that develops from the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the esophagus.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: It is a type of cancer that develops from cells on the inner lining of the esophagus.
The exact cause of esophageal cancer is not known; however, certain factors such as advancing age, gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), obesity, Barrett's esophagus, diet, smoking, alcohol, chemicals and pollutants may increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
In the early stages of esophageal cancer, you may have no symptoms. As the cancer grows you may experience weight loss, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), chest pain, fatigue, frequent choking, indigestion, coughing and hoarseness.
Your doctor can often detect esophageal cancer by reviewing your symptoms and performing a thorough physical examination. Certain tests may be ordered to assist in determining the diagnosis and may include:
- Barium X-rays: These are diagnostic X-rays in which barium is used to diagnose tumors or other abnormal areas. You are asked to drink a liquid that contains barium while X-rays are taken. The barium coats the walls of the esophagus and stomach, and makes the abnormalities visible more clearly.
- Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a procedure in which a long thin flexible tube with a tiny camera is used to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
- Biopsy: A small sample of tissue is removed and examined under the microscope to look for abnormal cells.
Esophageal cancer may be treated with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery. Surgery to remove the portion of your esophagus that contains the tumor and nearby lymph nodes is called esophagectomy. The remaining section of the esophagus is connected again to your stomach.