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What is esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer describes the disease where cells that line the esophagus change or mutate and become malignant. These cells grow out of control and form a tumor.

There are two main types of esophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma affects the squamous cells and usually develops within the middle third of the esophagus. Squamous cells describe thin, flat cells that line the inner surface of the mid-portion of the esophagus.
  • Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus affects the lower third of the esophagus. This type of cancer arises from the glandular cells found in that area of the esophagus.

There are more rare forms of cancer that affect the esophagus, including lymphoma, malignant melanoma, sarcoma, choriocarcinoma, and small cell cancer.

Return to Esophageal Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: izzyk, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: August 01

I'm 61 years old. I received my biopsy results today; squamous cell carcinoma of mid-esophagus with lymph node involvement. I see the surgeon Tuesday. After turning 60, I started to feel old. I had a job change and was mostly sitting at a desk all day. My back was aching by the end of the day. I started taking ibuprofen every evening. Then by noon it was so painful I had to take ibuprofen. Now it has been Tylenol, but around the clock and it wakes me up. The real problem came over Memorial Day weekend and I had 2 little bites of steak. It took me 3 hours to get them down. I saw my doctor on June 15th, who ordered CTs, lab tests, barium swallow, PET scan and EGD where they performed the biopsy. I am scared because all the statistics are against me and I don't know what stage or the extent the lymph nodes are involved. I don't know how to tell my girls.

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Comment from: Kittymom57, 55-64 Female (Caregiver) Published: September 06

A friend just turned 60, was never sick besides a cold his whole life. He got a sinus infection early in 2016. Despite visits to his family doctor and new medicines it did not clear up. Suddenly he had trouble swallowing but blew it off to swollen glands. After 3 weeks of not being able to keep any kind of food down he became dehydrated. He went to the doctor, but the doctor could not get an IV line in, he was so dehydrated. They had to send him to the emergency room. They were able to get one in and ended up admitting him. Tests came back negative, he still couldn't get food down. He has had horrible acid reflux for years and been on medicines. Finally the hospitalist suggested having a gastrointestinal doctor scope his throat thinking it may just have needed stretched. The doctor could not get the scope down because his throat was blocked by a huge, malignant tumor. Tissue was sent for biopsy but the doctor was sure it was malignant. He was immediately sent to see an oncologist. A PET scan was done. When the results came in it was stage 4 metastasized. He began chemotherapy and was told he had 18 months left. A port and a feeding tube were put in. He had a stent put in his esophagus but it slipped and it was not redone. He had a urinary tract infection and was urinating blood and was in the hospital. He was dehydrated 2 or 3 times. He went for a second opinion after one month. Because of an enzyme or gene he carried he was a candidate for a better kind of chemotherapy. The oncologist had good results with it. Another scan was done after 6 weeks and it had shrunk in his stomach. On July 27 he had to be taken back to hospital because he had been unable to keep anything in that went in the tube. Within a few days he had to be moved and put on monitors. Within 3 days he was in the ICU. On July 31 another scan was done and we were told it had exploded and spread and there was nothing else that could be done. He was unable to tolerate anything through the tube so he was started on IV nutrition. Fluid was drained from his abdomen twice that week. On Sunday afternoon they had to drain 5 liters of fluid out of his abdomen and 1 liter from his lung. On Monday late afternoon the doctors told us he probably only had 1 1/2 to 1 week. As the evening wore on more fluid built up and he went into respiratory failure.

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Comment from: Diane clay, 55-64 Female (Caregiver) Published: November 25

My dad was diagnosed with stage 3 esophageal cancer the Easter of 2013. He had delayed seeing a doctor for almost 11 months as he was so afraid. His first symptoms were pain on swallowing, firstly bread and food getting stuck, then meat would get stuck, and then it turned to all food by the time we got him to hospital. He couldn't swallow his own saliva and had lost four stone in weight. I knew my dad had cancer and short of physically dragging him to a doctor I had tried everything to get him seen. At first they thought they could operate and dad had three cycles of chemotherapy, but first in hospital and tube fed for three weeks. He had a stent put in so he could eat soft food. In September they went in to operate but had seen that the tumor had spread rapidly attached to lung, diaphragm and wrapped round aorta and grown over top of first stent. We were told dad had a few months, then his oncologist offered a different type of chemotherapy to hold the tumor and prolong his life. While he was taking this chemotherapy they discovered dad's tumor was a HER2 tumor and Herceptin, a drug mainly for breast cancer would block the cancer. We were told National Health Service wouldn't fund Herceptin so we were looking into paying for it privately when my dad collapsed and passed away at home. That was exactly a year after his diagnosis. We didn't have a post mortem done. My dad was such a character, a kind heart, he made me laugh so much and I'll never get over losing him. I just wished he would have gone sooner but I can understand how bad his fear was. Esophageal cancer is an evil disease.

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