Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month is a time to increase public understanding about Esophageal Cancer and the risk factors that can lead to this devastating disease. New therapies currently being studied are showing promise in treating this sometimes deadly disease and we hope that brighter days are on the horizon for patients at risk for this disease.
What is the Esophagus?
The esophagus is a muscular tube connecting the throat to the stomach. Esophageal cancer forms in the tissue lining of the esophagus.
Two Types of Esophageal Cancer
Many people are aware that smoking and drinking can lead to cancer and both have been linked to one type of cancer called Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (ESCC). Thankfully, that type of Esophageal Cancer is on the decline in the U.S. and most western nations.
But the other type of Esophageal Cancer known as Esophageal Adenocarcinoma (EAC) has been increasing in the western world at explosive rates. It’s estimated that the cases of this type of cancer have increased more than 600 percent in the past four decades. Esophageal Adenocarcinoma is currently the fastest increasing cancer among American men. And it is caused by Reflux Disease, sometimes called Acid Reflux or GERD.
Awareness Can Save Lives
The reason why awareness of this disease is so important is that if Esophageal Cancer is caught at early stages, or in the case of EAC, before it even becomes cancer, patients’ chances to survive increase dramatically.
A condition called Barrett’s Esophagus is the precursor to Esophageal Adenocarcinoma. It’s estimated that more than 3 million Americans currently have Barrett’s Esophagus but only a small fraction of those patients are aware, as they have seen a gastroenterologist. That means millions of Americans have no idea that they have a condition that could mean they are as much as 40 times more likely to develop a deadly cancer. The reason it’s important to discover Barrett’s Esophagus before it becomes cancer is that this condition is highly treatable. Most patients who undergo treatment for this condition never go on to develop Esophageal Cancer!
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include painful or difficult swallowing, weight loss, pain behind the breastbone, hoarseness and cough, and indigestion and heartburn.
Smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, and Barrett’s esophagus can increase a person’s risk of developing this cancer. Other risk factors include older age, being male, and being African-American.
When to Talk to Your Doctor
Talk to your doctor about your concerns if:
- You have more than occasional heartburn symptoms.
- You’ve experienced heartburn symptoms in the past and your symptoms have gone away.
- You have any pain or difficulty swallowing.
- You have a family history of Barrett’s Esophagus or Esophageal Cancer
- You’ve had a persistent unexplained cough.
- You’ve been speaking with a hoarse voice for more than 2 weeks.
- You have a persistent unexplained sore throat.
- You cough or choke when you lie down.
- You’re a smoker or previous smoker.
The doctors at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates are here to help! Call us today to schedule your appointment to discuss your risk and treatment options. 908-483-4000.