Esophageal carcinoma is the tenth most common cancer in the world. It all starts with your oesophagus, a lean, muscular tube that transports food from your throat to your stomach. Sometimes esophageal cancer tumours are undetected until the disease has progressed.
Medical professionals use surgical procedures to remove tumours or cure symptoms of early-stage esophageal cancer. Therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy are used to treat more advanced or later-stage esophageal cancer.
This post discusses the causes, signs, and available treatments for esophageal cancer.
Causes of Esophageal Cancer
The exact causes of esophageal cancer are still unknown, despite being a relatively uncommon disease. However, researchers have discovered a connection between this type of cancer and DNA damage in esophageal mucosal cells.
DNA is a substance that acts as a genetic information carrier. Genetic information determines how cells behave and instructs when to divide and die. Oncogenes are genes that instruct cells on how to develop, divide, and continue to exist. Tumour suppressor genes instruct cells to stop proliferating and die at the right moment.
Incorrect instructions from damaged DNA may unintentionally “turn on” oncogenes or “turn off” tumour suppressor genes. Some cells may divide very quickly, while others may live longer than they would otherwise. A surplus of cells may be produced, and some extra cells may congregate to form tumours.
Symptoms of Oesophageal Cancer
The symptoms of esophageal cancer can vary depending on the cancer stage. There can be absolutely no symptoms in the early stages.
However, as cancer spreads, these signs could appear:
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia): This is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer, especially when accompanied by pain or discomfort while swallowing. The sensation of food getting stuck in the chest or throat is also a common symptom.
- Chest pain or discomfort: It may occur when cancer has grown and is pressing against the oesophagus or nearby structures. The pain may be severe or feel like a burning sensation.
- Unintentional weight loss: As cancer grows and affects the ability to swallow, it can cause unintended weight loss.
- Hoarseness: Cancer affecting the nerves that control the vocal cords can cause hoarseness or other changes in voice quality.
- Coughing or wheezing: This can occur when the cancer grows and presses against the windpipe or lungs.
- Pain or discomfort in the throat or chest: This can occur when cancer has grown and is pressing against the oesophagus or nearby structures.
It is important to note that other conditions, such as acid reflux or other digestive disorders, can also cause these symptoms. However, if a person experiences any of these symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen over time, he or she must consult a doctor for further evaluation and testing. Early detection of esophageal cancer can lead to better treatment outcomes.
Treatment Options for Oesophageal Cancer
The treatment options for esophageal cancer depend on several factors, including the stage of cancer, the tumour’s location, and the patient’s overall health.
Some of the major options that are available for the treatment of esophageal cancer are:
- Surgery: If the cancer is localised and has not spread to other areas, surgery may be recommended to remove the tumour and surrounding tissue. The location and size of the tumour will determine the type of surgery.
- Radiation therapy: High-energy radiation destroys cancer cells and reduces tumour size. Radiation therapy can be an alternative, apart from surgery or chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment uses medications to either kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. Before or after surgery, chemotherapy can reduce the tumour’s size or eradicate any cancer cells that may still be present.
- Immunotherapy: This therapy uses medications to stimulate the body’s defences against cancer cells. Immunotherapy can be applied on its own or with other therapies.
Sometimes, a combination of these treatments may be recommended to achieve the best possible outcome. For advanced cases of esophageal cancer that cannot be cured, palliative care may be provided to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
Prevention of Esophageal Cancer
There are several steps that individuals can take to reduce their risk of developing esophageal cancer:
- Stop smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for esophageal cancer, and quitting smoking can substantially lower the chance of having this cancer.
- Limit your alcohol intake: Excessive alcohol usage is another risk factor for esophageal cancer. Risk can also be lowered by limiting alcohol intake.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity has been connected to an increased risk of esophageal cancer. This risk can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight through food and exercise.
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in processed and red meats may reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.
- Manage acid reflux: Chronic acid reflux can lead to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus, which increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer. Managing acid reflux through lifestyle changes and medication can help reduce this risk.
- Get screened: Individuals with a history of esophageal cancer in their family or who have a history of Barrett’s oesophagus may benefit from regular screenings to detect early signs of cancer.
When to Consult a Doctor
You can also get in touch with the expert Oncology doctors at Narayana Healthcare based in your city to get immediate attention and medical support during injuries, health disorders or any other health concern.
In conclusion, esophageal cancer is a relatively rare but aggressive cancer affecting the oesophagus. Understanding this disease’s causes, symptoms, and treatment options is essential for anyone at risk. By making lifestyle changes and seeking regular medical care, it is possible to reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer and detect it early when it is most treatable.
Q. What is esophageal cancer?
A. The oesophagus, which connects your mouth to your stomach, is where esophageal cancer typically develops.
Q. What are the risk factors for esophageal cancer?
A. Some things that can increase your chances of getting esophageal cancer are smoking, heavy drinking, acid reflux, obesity, being older than 50, having a family history of esophageal cancer, and having a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus.
Q. What are the common symptoms of esophageal cancer?
A. Some common symptoms of esophageal cancer are difficulty swallowing, painful swallowing, unintentional weight loss, chest pain, hoarseness or changes in voice, coughing or wheezing, and pain in the throat or chest.
Q. How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?
A. A combination of medical history, physical examination, and tests like endoscopy, biopsy, and imaging can diagnose esophageal cancer.
Q. What is the treatment for esophageal cancer?
A. The treatment options for esophageal cancer may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. The cancer’s stage, location, and the patient’s general health will all influence the therapy option.