The esophagus is a tube that connects the mouth to the stomach and forms an important part of the body's digestive system.
There are different types of esophageal cancer, including carcinoma (the most common) and lymphoma (cancer of the lymph system). Tumors of the smooth muscle of the esophagus (leimyosarcoma) are usually benign (not cancerous).
The disease may show up as a narrowing of the esophageal tube, a lump or an abnormal flat area. Only about 5% of people with this kind of cancer survive more than five years.
- Smoking and heavy alcohol use
- Persons who have had cancer of the head and neck
- Persons who once swallowed a strong alkali, such as lye
- Persons who have achalasia, a condition in which the opening of the esophageal "tube" fails to work correctly
- Frequent irritation from acid or bile back-flow
Sign and Symptoms
- Having a hard time swallowing -- solid foods first, then soft foods and eventually liquids
- Significant weight loss (the result of not being able to swallow easily)
Cancer specialists have several techniques to help them find esophageal cancer, including:
- X-ray with barium. The patient drinks a special liquid (barium), which travels through the body and outlines the cancer when X-rayed.
- Biopsy. A special instrument (endoscopy) is used to take a sample of tissue, which is examined under a microscope.
- Surgery. A surgeon may remove the tumor when possible. This may relieve pain and difficulty for the patient, but it does not cure the disease.
- Chemotherapy and radiation. Anti-cancer drugs and high-energy X-rays may be used to temporarily reduce patient discomfort, but these techniques seldom cure the disease.
- Dilation. The narrowed esophagus is widened by inserting a tube to keep it open.
- Bypass. The surgeon may create a bypass of the tumor with a piece of the patient's intestine.
- Laser therapy. Powerful light beams may be used to destroy the cancer tissue that blocks the esophagus.