Delta Medix Patient General Information

Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer forms in tissues lining the esophagus, which is located in the chest. It is about 10 inches long, and is the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach. Two types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that begins in flat cells lining the esophagus) and adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is usually found in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of esophageal cancer in the United States. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually found in the upper part of the esophagus.

Cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor. They may enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into all tissues of the body. The cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues. The spread of cancer cells is called metastasis.

Early esophageal cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are

  • Food gets stuck in the esophagus, and food may come back up
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Pain in the chest or back
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • A hoarse voice or cough that does not go away within two weeks

These symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or other health problems. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Treatment Options for Esophageal Cancer

  • Surgery - There are several types of surgery for esophageal cancer. The type depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole esophagus or only the part that has cancer. Usually, the surgeon removes the section of the esophagus with the cancer, lymph nodes, and nearby soft tissues. You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you.
  • Radiation Therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the treated area. Radiation therapy may be used before or after surgery, or it may be used instead of surgery in some situations. Radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy to treat esophageal cancer. The two types of radiation therapy used are external radiation and internal radiation.
  • Chemotherapy uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body. Anticancer drugs may be given through a vein, but some may be given by mouth.