The esophagus is the tract or passage where food runs between the throat and stomach. Cancer in the esophagus can be divided into two sub-types: the squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Esophageal squamous cell carcinoma has been observed to be more common in the developing world while esophageal adenocarcinoma is seen to be more common in the developed world. The difference lies in the cells the cancer arises from. Squamous cell carcinoma starts from the epithelial cells in the esophagus while adenocarcinoma starts from glandular cells that are only present in the lower third of the esophagus.
The squamous cell carcinoma is usually caused by alcohol, tobacco, very hot beverages, poor diet, and the chewing of betel nut. The most common causes of adenocarcinoma are obesity, acid reflux, and smoking tobacco. Esophageal cancer can be diagnosed through a biopsy that can be performed via endoscopy.
The prevention of esophageal cancer includes quitting the use of tobacco and having a healthy diet. Treatment and management of the disease depends on the stage and location of the cancer, personal preference, and general health of the individual. Small cancers can be treated with surgery. Chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy can also be used. In advanced cases or in cases where the person is unfit to undergo surgery, palliative care is recommended.
In 2012, esophageal cancer was found to be the eighth most common cancer globally with 456,000 new cases that year, resulting in 400,000 deaths. While the rates of esophageal cancer vary among countries, it has been observed that about half of all cases occur in China. It is also observed to be more common in men compared to women. The prognosis of esophageal cancer tends to be fairly poor as the disease is often diagnosed in late stages. The five-year survival rates are about 13 to 18 percent. Here are some of the most common symptoms to look for with esophageal cancer.
Symptom #1: Difficulty Swallowing
Difficulty swallowing is also medically known as dysphagia. It is often described as a feeling of difficulty passing solids from the mouth to the stomach. Dysphagia should be distinguished from odynophagia, which refers to pain during swallowing. People with dysphagia have a higher risk of pulmonary aspiration and subsequently, aspiration pneumonia. Dysphagia can manifest as coughing, choking, wet voice, nasal regurgitation, and more.