Esophageal Cancer is a rare, but devastating illness that affects an individual’s esophagus — the hollow tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Although an individual’s risk of developing the disease during his or her lifetime is only 0.5 percent, the five-year survival rate for those patients diagnosed with the condition averages just 19.9 percent.
The two most common types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, which typically affects the upper and middle part of the esophagus, and adenocarcinoma, which usually occurs in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach.
Esophageal cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages. However, as it progresses individuals can experience:
· Difficult or painful swallowing
· Weight loss
· Cough that does not go away
· Indigestion or Heartburn
Because symptoms usually do not appear until the disease is advanced, esophageal cancer is one of the most difficult cancers to treat. Fortunately, researchers continue to investigate new methods to treat esophageal cancer that extend beyond traditional options, such as surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.
Risk factors include age (over 55), gender (men have higher prevalence than women), smoking, alcohol use, obesity, chronic acid reflux disease, and the presence of a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus can contribute to Esophageal Cancer. Prevention of esophageal cancer involves modifying these risk factors.
Esophageal cancer can be detected through testing; however, it is not recommended everyone get routinely screened. Patients with symptoms such as trouble swallowing, chest pain, weight loss, hoarseness, chronic cough, vomiting, hiccups, and esophageal bleeding or patients with chronic acid reflux are recommended to undergo testing. Upper endoscopy is the best test available for the diagnosis of Barrett’s esophagus and Esophageal Cancer. Early detection is important as there are effective treatment options available.
Esophageal cancer is treatable, so please do not ignore warning symptoms that allow for early detection.
For more information, or to discuss your risks or symptoms, please call the physicians at Hunterdon Gastroenterology Associates at (908) 483-4000.
Source: National Foundation for Cancer Research. Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month: Take Steps to Reduce Your Risk. 2020.