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Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs in the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Although survival rates have improved over the years, esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed when it has advanced and is more difficult to treat.

Types

Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the cells lining the esophagus. This type of esophageal cancer is more common in African-Americans. Adenocarcinoma occurs in glandular tissue, most often in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach. It is the most common type of esophageal cancer. Adenocarcinomas are more common among Caucasians.

Symptoms

Esophageal cancer symptoms of are often not evident during its early stages. Even though symptoms may not mean cancer, people should consider contacting a doctor when experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia
  • Pain, pressure or burning in the throat or chest
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent hiccups
  • Chronic cough

Diagnosis

Diagnosing esophageal cancer can be done in various ways, including:

  • X-rays of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Esophagoscopy: a thin tube is inserted into the mouth to examine the inside of the esophagus. This procedure can also be used to collect cell samples from the stomach for analysis.
  • CT scans are used after a positive diagnosis to determine the extent, or spread of the cancer

Treatment

Treatment for esophageal cancer depends on the stage. Surgery is the most common treatment for esophageal cancer. There are two surgical techniques:

  • Esophagectomy: The cancerous portions of the esophagus and neighboring lymph nodes are removed.
  • Radical esophagectomy: The entire esophagus and the top portion of the stomach are removed.

Chemotherapy, the use of drugs to kill cancer cells, is most often combined with radiation therapy. Photodynamic therapy: laser-sensitive chemicals are injected into the tumor site. A laser beam then targets the chemicals to destroy the tumor.