Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month

pril 12, 2016 - Esophageal cancer refers to the cancer that affects a person’s esophagus (or food pipe). The esophageal cancer cells almost always develop in the cells that line the inner side of the esophagus. It can occur in any part of the esophagus and is more prominent in men as compared to women. Prompt and immediate diagnosis and treatment of esophageal cancer is important to retain the well-being and health of the patient.

Esophageal cancer is becoming more common now due to certain changes that have taken place environmentally as well as in regards to lifestyle of the people. Esophageal cancer usually affects adult men more than women and children. There are clear signs and symptoms that accompany esophageal cancer such as difficulty in swallowing, unexplained weight-loss, chest pain, burning sensation or pressure as well as worsening heartburn and indigestion often seen with hoarseness or soreness in the throat. It is highly advised to seek a medical consultation with an experienced doctor or an oncologist, if possible, in case any of the signs and symptoms associated with esophageal cancer is noticed.

The exact cause of esophageal cancer is not known but it is a fact that the cancerous cells develop uncontrollably due to a mutation (change) in their DNA. This error results in an uncontrolled growth and division of cells in the inner lining of the esophagus. This uncontrolled growth in the cells results in formation of tumors in the esophagus that is likely to spread to other surrounding organs and parts of the body.

Esophageal cancer is classified into several types depending mainly on the type of cell that has been affected. This also helps to determine the best-suited treatment for the patient’s esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer can be an ‘Adenocarcinoma’ which starts in the mucus-secreting glands’ cells which are mostly in the lower part of the esophagus, or ‘Squamous Cell Carcinoma’ which begins in the flat and thin cells that line the inner parts of the esophagus and are mainly in the middle part of the esophagus, or it may be other rare type of cancer which includes lymphoma, choriocarcinoma, sarcoma or melanoma as well.

Certain risk factors have been identified that are known to contribute towards the development of esophageal cancer, such as heavy regular alcohol consumption, bile reflex disorder, achlasia which develops difficulty in swallowing or due to drinking very hot liquids, less fruits and fresh vegetables in the diet, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), obesity as well as similar other factors. Esophageal cancer, if left untreated for long can result in severe obstruction of the esophagus that makes it impossible to have food or liquid as well as intense pain along with bleeding in the esophagus.

It is therefore important to consult an experienced doctor if any of the signs and symptoms are noticed. The doctor will usually suggest a few diagnostic tests to determine the presence and the type of esophageal cancer. An endoscopy allows the doctor to use a thin hollow surgical tube attached with a video camera and a light-source to be inserted in the mouth and on to the esophagus to check for the signs of abnormal growth in it. If the doctor detects the presence of esophageal cancer they may also suggest a biopsy to determine the type of cell affected by the cancer. A biopsy is performed using a minimally invasive surgical method (endoscope) to collect a sample of the cancer cells (tumor) in the esophagus. The esophageal cancer is categorized into several stages that help to determine the best-suited treatment method in that particular case. The esophageal cancer is divided into Stage I (cancer in superficial layers of inner lining of esophagus), Stage II (cancer in deeper cells of inner lining as well as in nearby lymph nodes), Stage III (cancer is in the deepest tissue layer of esophagus and nearby lymph nodes and other tissues) and Stage IV (cancer that has spread to surrounding parts of the body).

There are various types of treatment options available for treating esophageal cancer and the exact type of treatment for an individual case mostly depends on the type of cell that has been affected by cancer. The most common treatment method for early stage esophageal cancer as well as advanced esophageal cancers too. There are variants of surgical esophageal cancer treatments such as a surgery can be performed to remove only the small tumors that are seen in the superficial layer of the inner lining of the esophagus and a small margin of the healthy tissue from around it to prevent future growth of cancer cells in it. This surgery can be performed using minimally invasive surgical methods (endoscope). Another form of surgical esophageal cancer treatment involves removing a portion of the esophagus (also known as esophagectomy). This surgery requires removing the cancer-affected portion of the esophagus along with the lymph nodes. The remainder of the esophagus is reattached to the stomach. Another form of surgical treatment for esophageal cancer is a more extensive surgery that requires removing a portion of the esophagus as well as a part of the upper stomach (also known as esophagogastrectomy). This involves removing the cancer-affected portion of the esophagus, the nearby lymph nodes as well as the upper portion of the stomach. The surgeon will reattach the esophagus to the remainder of the stomach and rejoin the colon if necessary. Nowadays, most of the esophageal cancer surgical treatments are performed using minimally invasive surgical methods (endoscope) to ensure less pain and more convenience to the patient during the surgical procedure.

Another form of esophageal cancer treatment method is the chemotherapy treatment. This requires administering various medicinal drugs that are designed to attack the cancer cells and stop their function to divide and grow. This treatment is usually performed in combination with the surgical treatment for optimum results in removing the cancer cells completely. This treatment may also be combines with the radiation therapy treatment as well.

Radiation therapy is another form of effective treatment for esophageal cancer. This treatment method requires using high-energy radiation beams (x-ray, etc) to destroy the targeted esophageal cancer cells. This treatment may be given using external beam method or brachytherapy which involves using a radiation device that can be inserted in the esophagus to target the cancer cells from close range.

Most of these esophageal cancer treatment methods are effective in treating the cancer cells as well as preventing the recurrence of the esophageal cancer in the future. Prompt and effective treatment from an experienced cancer specialist surgeon can mean the difference between restoration of good health or death from untreated esophageal cancer.

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