Esophageal Cancer: Overview, Causes, and Symptoms

Esophagus is the hollow muscular tube responsible for the movement of food from the throat towards the stomach. Esophageal cancer may occur when a malevolent tumour gets formed in the esophagus. As this tumour starts growing, it affects the muscle along with the deep tissues. The tumour can start growing anywhere along the esophagus, including the area where it meets the stomach.

As per studies and historical data, it is suggested that men are more prone to get esophageal cancer as compared to women. It ranks as the 6th most common cause of deaths globally. However, the incidence rates vary among different locations geographically. A higher rate of esophageal cancer cases in a particular region can be attributed to the usage habits of tobacco and alcohol or attributed to the local nutritional habits and obesity quotient.

Types of Esophageal Cancer

Classification of Esophageal Cancer is done according to the kind of cells involved. Determining the type of Esophageal Cancer helps in determining the treatment options for the patients. The typical types of Esophageal Cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma originates in the cells of glands that secrete mucus in the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma tends to occur mostly in the lower part of the Esophagus
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cells are thin, flatter cells that line-up along the surface of the esophagus. The squamous cell carcinoma cancer originates mostly in the upper and middle part of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent type of esophageal cancer globally
  • Other Types (Rare): There are some rare forms of esophageal cancer too. These include small cell carcinoma, melanoma, lymphoma, sarcoma, and choriocarcinoma.

Causes of Esophageal Cancer

It is generally suggested that chronic or elongated irritation of your esophagus tend to contribute to the development of changes that cause esophageal cancer. Some of the factors that cause such an irritation in the cells of the esophagus and increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer are:

  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)
  • Smoking
  • Having Barrett’s esophagus: Pre-cancerous developments in the cells of the esophagus
  • Obesity
  • Excessive intake of Alcohol
  • Bile reflux
  • Achalasia: Difficulty in swallowing due to an esophageal sphincter which won’t relax
  • Steady or Prolonged Habit of drinking liquids at very hot temperatures
  • Insufficient intake of vegetables and fruits on a daily basis
  • Radiation treatments to the chest or upper abdomen

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Detection of cancer begins with one’s alertness and awareness of the symptoms that start showing up when the cancer originates. The critical key is to pay utmost attention to all aspects of your body so as to notice & address anything that seems different. Some of the common signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Dysphagia: Difficulty in swallowing food
  • Weight loss without intentional effort for it
  • Chest pains, feeling pressure or burning sensation
  • Indigestion or heartburn getting worse
  • Extensive coughing and/ or hoarseness

However, keep in mind that early stages of esophageal cancer may tend to offer no such signs that can be characterized as early symptoms. One should consider taking an appointment with the doctor if they have any persistent signs and symptoms listed above.

If a patient has been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, which is a pre-cancerous medical condition which heightens the risk of developing esophageal cancer caused by chronic acid reflux, they should consult the doctor which particular signs and symptoms to look out for which may suggest if the condition is improving or worsening. Typically, the screening for esophageal cancer is not done as a routine except for patients diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, because there aren’t any other easily identifiable high-risk groups that are known to be prone to this cancer.

Prevention of Esophageal Cancer

One can take measures and steps to reduce the exposure, risk, and lower down the chances of being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Some of these measures include:

  • Quit Smoking:Smoking affects your body in more than one way and all of these effects are negative. Not only does it increase the risk of lung and throat cancer, it may also cause esophageal cancer. If you are a habitual smoker, consult a doctor about strategies for quitting the habit. Many forms of medications and counselling are available to help you quit the habit. Needless to mention, if you don’t smoke or use tobacco, do not start.
  • Check that alcohol intake:Drinking alcohol also affects your body negatively. It has ill effects on your liver, kidney, and may even affect the brain in some cases. One should try and refrain from taking alcoholic beverages; however, if you still choose to take alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, it adds up to one drink per day for women of all ages and men above the age of 65, while up to two drinks per day for men aged 65 years and younger.
  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables:One should look forward to adding a variety of fruits and vegetables to their diet. Both fruits & vegetables offer nutrition which is healthier for the body and helps in keeping infections and diseases at bay.
  • Fight Obesity: If you are obese or a little overweight, you should look forward to talking to a dietician or to your doctor about planning and strategizing on losing some weight. One should always target for a slow but steady weight loss instead of indulging in excessively rigorous work-outs or improper diet plans. A healthy diet plan ensures that your food intake matches your body requirements and then works to help you lose out on excess fat and build a better physique.