The esophagus Esophagus Your digestive system breaks food down into separate nutrients that fuel your body. Your digestive tract (also called the gastrointestinal or GI tract) is the hollow tube that food goes through... read more is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach.
What is esophageal cancer?
Cancer Overview of Cancer Cancer is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells are the tiny building blocks of your body. Cells specialize in what they do. For example, your intestines have muscle cells to... read more is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells are the tiny building blocks of your body. Cells specialize in what they do. Different organs are made of different kinds of cells. Almost any kind of cell can become cancerous.
Esophageal cancer is cancer Overview of Cancer Cancer is the out-of-control growth of cells in your body. Cells are the tiny building blocks of your body. Cells specialize in what they do. For example, your intestines have muscle cells to... read more that starts in the lining of your esophagus.
You’re more likely to get esophageal cancer if you use tobacco and alcohol, have HPV infection Genital Warts HPV is a virus that causes warts. There are many types of HPV. Some types of HPV cause warts on your skin Other types of HPV cause warts on your genitals (genital warts) Some of the types of... read more , or have certain disorders of the esophagus
Symptoms include problems swallowing, weight loss, and pain
Unless the cancer is caught early, surgery, chemotherapy, and other therapies may not cure your cancer but can help make you more comfortable
What causes esophageal cancer?
You have a higher chance of having esophageal cancer if you:
Use tobacco or drink alcohol
Had head or neck cancer
Had radiation therapy to your esophagus to treat other nearby cancers
Had untreated reflux disease (called GERD Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) GERD (acid reflux) is a disease caused by your stomach contents and stomach acid flowing back up your esophagus. Your esophagus is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach. Acid reflux... read more ) for many years
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
You may not notice symptoms right away. Early symptoms include:
Having a hard time swallowing food, because your esophagus gets narrower as the cancer grows
Chest pain, which you may also feel in your back
Later symptoms include:
Having trouble swallowing liquids and saliva
Pain in your spine
Shortness of breath
Eventually, the cancer blocks your esophagus, which stops you from swallowing and causes saliva to build up in your mouth.
How can doctors tell if I have esophageal cancer?
Doctors suspect esophageal cancer from your symptoms. To know for sure, they'll do tests, such as:
Endoscopy Endoscopy Endoscope is an instrument doctors use to look inside your body. Endoscopes can also be used to do tests and treat diseases. Endoscopes are tubes that have a light and a small video camera on... read more (a procedure that uses a flexible viewing tube placed down your throat to look at your esophagus)
Biopsy (taking out part of the tissue to look at under a microscope)
Barium x-ray (x-rays taken after you swallow barium, which helps doctors see details in your digestive tract)
CT (computed tomography) scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more or ultrasound Ultrasonography Ultrasonography is a safe imaging test that uses sound waves to create a moving picture of the insides of your body. Ultrasonography doesn't use radiation (x-rays). Ultrasonography is also called... read more of the neck
How do doctors treat esophageal cancer?
If the cancer is small, doctors may be able to burn it or cut it out with surgery to try to cure you.
Most of the time the cancer cannot be cured, so treatments for esophageal cancer help with symptoms such as pain and problems swallowing. Treatments include:
Using a stent (a flexible metal mesh tube) to keep your esophagus open
Burning the cancer with a laser to widen the opening
Getting enough nutrition is important. If you can swallow, you may get special liquid nutrition shakes. If you can’t swallow, you may need to be fed through a tube in your belly.
Having esophageal cancer can be scary and upsetting. Your doctor may offer you support to help you deal with your symptoms and emotions and plan for the end of your life, such as making a living will Advance Directives Health care advance directives are legal documents that communicate a person’s wishes about health care decisions in the event the person becomes incapable of making health care decisions. There... read more .