Esophageal Cancer
(Cancer of the Esophagus)

Esophageal cancer facts*

*Esophageal cancer facts Medically Edited by:

  • The esophagus in adults is a muscular tube about 10 inches long that helps move food from the mouth to the stomach. It is composed of a mucosal lining, submucosa, muscle tissue and an outer covering layer of cells called the adventitia above the diaphragm and the serosa below the diaphragm.
  • Cancer cells are malignant forms of body cells that often grow to form tissue masses or tumors that can spread to other organs.
  • The two main types of esophageal cancer are adenocarcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Risk factors for both types are age 65 or greater, male sex, smoking, heavy drinking, a diet poor in fruits and vegetables, obesity, acid reflux, and Barrett's's esophagus.
  • Common symptoms of esophageal cancer include food getting stuck in the esophagus and vomiting, pain with swallowing, chest and/or back pain, heartburn, weight loss and a hoarse voice.
  • Diagnosis is performed by a barium swallow test, endoscopy and biopsy (definitive test)
  • There are five stages of esophageal cancer – Stages 0 to IV, with 0 being the least invasive and IV the most aggressive with spread to distant organs.
  • Treatment of this cancer is individually based on the patient's health and cancer stage; the options vary from surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or a combination of these options (also, some patients may be considered for laser or photodynamic therapy)
  • Surgery for this cancer may involve part or all of the esophagus; other structures (part of the stomach, lymph nodes or other parts of affected organs may be removed).
  • Radiation therapy uses high energy rays focused to kill cancer cells; it is often used together with chemotherapy.
  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells; it is often used together with radiation and/or surgery and often requires cycles or repeated doses of drugs.
  • In general, patients are encouraged to get a second opinion about their diagnosis and treatment for esophageal cancer.
  • Side effects of treatment for esophageal cancer may include the need for supportive care to control pain, infections such as pneumonia, difficulty in swallowing, depression, nausea, vomiting, requiring a feeding tube, requiring a special diet, weight loss, and may need vitamin and mineral supplements
  • Follow-up care for monitoring and or additional treatments is usually required
  • Supportive care can be provided for esophageal cancer patients; this should be done by the patient's treatment team, as well as by social workers, counselors, clergy and many others.
  • Research about esophageal cancer is ongoing; the treating doctors may be able to link patients to other researchers that are doing clinical trials of the newest treatments for this cancer.
  • The National Cancer Institute (NCI) offers an extensive amount of information about cancers, including esophageal cancer (1-800-422-6237) and through their PDQ website.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

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Esophageal Cancer - Symptoms and Signs Question: What were the symptoms and signs you experienced with esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Prognosis Question: What is your esophageal cancer prognosis?
Esophageal Cancer - Types Question: Do you or someone you know have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus? Please share your story.
Esophageal Cancer - Risk Factors Question: Do you have any of the risk factors for esophageal cancer? What are they, and what are your concerns?
Esophageal Cancer - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams led to a diagnosis of esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, including radiation or chemotherapy, did you receive for esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Surgery Question: Please describe the surgical experience you or someone you know had for esophageal cancer.
Esophageal Cancer - Second Opinion Question: How did you go about getting a second opinion for your esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Follow-Up Care Question: What type of follow-up care did you receive for your esophageal cancer?
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Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common type of cancer and causes 12,000 deaths per year in the U.S. (2% of all cancer deaths).