Each year in the United States around 16,000 new cases of esophageal cancer are reported. Only 10% of these individuals will actually survive and overcome the disease. This makes esophageal cancer highly lethal form of cancer. The frightening data regarding mortality rate is connected with the fact that most patients experience first symptoms of the disease once the cancer has significantly progressed and spread to deep tissues of the esophagus or even to nearby lymph nodes.
Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors
Because of what has just been mentioned it is essential to pay close attention to all conditions which are considered to contribute to esophageal cancer.
Risk factors for this type of cancer include excessive alcohol consumption, obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Gastroesophageal reflux disease leads to permanent irritation of the mucous membrane of the esophagus. Such irritation may eventually cause malignant transformation of esophageal cells. Also, gastroesophageal reflux disease may be associated with Barrett's esophagus, a disease in which the lining of the esophagus changes in such a way that cells that normally cover the surface of the organ get replaced with cells that are normally found in the stomach. This transformed epithelium is highly likely to eventually transform into malignant tissue.
People suffering from Barrett's esophagus are due to have regular check-ups and also undergo repeated endoscopy. Only this way esophageal cancer, which is highly likely to occur, may be timely diagnosed. Also, people suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease require proper treatment with potent inhibitors of stomach acid production and medications that prevent damage of the esophagus in order not to develop Barrett's esophagus or even end up with esophageal cancer.
What are the First Signs of Esophageal Cancer?
Early symptoms of esophageal cancer may be similar to symptoms of advanced gastroesophageal reflux disease and Barrett's esophagus. For instance, patients frequently complain about a burning-type of pain located behind the breast bone and in the middle of the chest. Pain may be also located in the middle of the upper abdomen. Furthermore, patients have difficulty swallowing. This issue mostly occurs when swallowing solid food although it may also occur when drinking fluids. As a result, patients tend to eat less and gradually lose their weight. Bleeding is also common for this type of cancer.
The blood leaves the body via feces and since loss of blood is gradual, it eventually leads to anemia. Anemia may be additionally caused by inadequate intake of food (especially food rich in iron, B12 vitamin and folic acid).
Unfortunately, all these symptoms and signs are actually associated with advanced esophageal cancer and most patients undergo palliative treatment, the one dealing with symptoms of the disease and making life easier for such patients, not being able to cure the disease.