Esophageal Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Options

Cancer occurs when normal cells become abnormal and begin growing out of control.  This can occur virtually anywhere in the body and can cause significant damage to a person’s health.  One area where cancer can strike is the esophagus which is the organ that carries food to the stomach for digestion.  If the cells which line the esophagus become cancerous then this turns into esophageal cancer.  It can affect anyone but tends to be more common in men who are over 50 years of age.  There are approximately 17,500 new cases of esophageal cancer diagnosed in the US every year.  Like virtually all other cancers, it can be much more effectively treated if it is identified in the early stages.  So it’s important to understand and recognize the key esophageal cancer symptoms.

Since esophageal cancer tends to produce a small tumor in its earliest stages, it can be difficult to detect and diagnose.  As the tumor grows larger it can interfere with the ability of someone to swallow food.  And in its advanced form, the tumor may become so large that it is next to impossible for someone to swallow food.  The pain may be too intense as well so it may require a feeding tube.  At this point the cancer has probably spread to other parts of the body which can greatly diminish the chances of effective treatment and a long term cure.  So pay close attention to any changes and early warning signs when it comes to the esophageal cancer symptoms as indicated below.  They typically include:

  • Difficulty in swallowing food.  As indicated earlier, if a tumor continues to grow as the cancer develops unchecked, it can interfere with the normal process of swallowing and digesting food.
  • Because it can be uncomfortable to eat, the person will tend to consume less food and ultimately lose weight.
  • A growing tumor in the esophagus may also cause a person to choke easily on food.  This is a serious sign and should be addressed immediately.
  • There also tends to be changes in a person’s voice.  Hoarseness is very common and he/she may cough up blood from time to time.
  • Chest pain and persistent fatigue are also common symptoms of esophageal cancer

If you experience any of these esophageal cancer symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.  There are a number of diagnostic tests which can be performed including x-rays and use of a thin and flexible camera to view the inside of the esophagus.  A biopsy is taken so that the affected tissue can be analyzed for malignancies.

If a positive diagnosis is made, treatment options will depend on the extent of the cancer and other factors including the age and health of the patient.  If the cancer has remained localized within the esophagus, then surgical procedures will be implemented.  The goal is to remove as much of the cancerous tissue and cells in that area.  It may entail removing a portion of the esophagus and in some cases the upper stomach.  Before this kind of surgical procedure, a course of chemotherapy treatment may be applied to shrink and localize the tumor further and kill as many stray cancer cells as possible.

If the cancer has developed to the point where it has spread to other organs, the prognosis is not as encouraging.  Surgical removal of cancerous tissue is not as practical and treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy would likely be applied to help control the growth of the cancer and associated symptoms.  A full recovery is unlikely but the goal would be to provide a good quality of life for as long as possible.

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