Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that affects the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It is a serious and often fatal disease, with a five-year survival rate of around 20%. Here is a detailed explanation of the signs, symptoms, and treatment options available for esophageal cancer.
Causes of Esophageal Cancer
The exact cause of esophageal cancer is unknown, but certain factors can increase the risk of developing it. The most common risk factors for esophageal cancer are:
Smoking: Smoking tobacco products, including cigarettes and cigars, increases the risk of esophageal cancer. Studies show that people who smoke have a two to three times greater risk of developing esophageal cancer compared to non-smokers.
Alcohol: Drinking alcohol in excess can damage the cells lining the esophagus and increase the risk of cancer. People who drink alcohol excessively are more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those who drink in moderation or not at all.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): GERD is a condition in which stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing inflammation and irritation. Chronic inflammation can lead to changes in the cells lining the esophagus, increasing the risk of cancer.
Age: The risk of esophageal cancer increases with age, with most cases occurring in people over the age of 50. Men are more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women.
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages, making it difficult to detect. As the cancer grows, it can cause the following symptoms:
Difficulty swallowing: This is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer, as the tumor can obstruct the esophagus. The sensation of food getting stuck in the throat or chest can occur during meals.
Chest pain: This can occur when the tumor grows and presses against nearby organs. It can feel like a burning sensation or pressure in the chest.
Weight loss: This can occur as a result of difficulty swallowing and reduced appetite. It may also be due to the cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
Hoarseness: This can occur when the tumor affects the nerves that control the vocal cords. Hoarseness can make it difficult to speak or cause changes in the tone of voice.
Chronic cough: This can occur when the tumor affects the nerves that control the lungs. Coughing can be persistent and may produce blood in sputum.
The treatment options for esophageal cancer vary depending on the stage of the cancer and the overall health of the patient. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy are the most common treatments, and they can be used alone or in combination to achieve the best results. It’s important for patients to work closely with their healthcare team to determine the best treatment plan for their individual needs.
Taking necessary steps to reduce their risk of esophageal cancer, such as quitting smoking, drinking alcohol in moderation, and maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine is a way ahead. With early detection and prompt treatment, the prognosis for esophageal cancer can be improved, and patients can have a better chance of a successful outcome.
By Dr Kapil Dev Sheoran, Surgical Oncologist, HCG Cancer Centre Jaipur