The esophagus is part of the digestive tract. It allows the proper movement of food from the mouth through to the stomach. It is muscular in its makeup and contains several layers, including an inner “mucosa” lining, the submucosa layer, the muscle layer, and the outer layer.
Esophageal cancer normally originates in the cells of the esophagus. When cells do not die as they should, or when new cells form excessively, then a tumor will form. These tumors can be benign or malignant in makeup.
Benign esophageal growths are not normally life threatening and can usually be successfully be removed without the possibility of re-growth. These tumors are normally non-invasive and don’t spread to other body parts. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, can be very serious threats to ones life, can grow back after removal, and can spread to other parts of the body.
As indicated, the cancer begins in the cells of the inner esophageal layer. The cancer might then spread through the esophagus and eventually to other body parts. Cells that are cancerous can spread by moving away from the original tumor. This can lead to the cells spreading to the lymph vessels and the blood vessels. Spreading of cells such as this is known as metastasis.
After finally diagnosing the presence of esophageal cancer, it will be important for the doctor to establish to which stage the disease has developed. There are five stages of cancer, known as stage 0, stage I, stage II, stage III, and stage IV respectively.
Stage 0 refers to the point when abnormal cells are discovered in the inner layer of the esophagus. In this stage, the abnormal cells are found exclusively in the inner layer. This stage is known as cancer in situ.
Stage I is the stage of the disease during which the cancer spreads to the submucosa layer of the esophagus. This is a slight progression from the previous stage.
Stage II occurs when the cancer reaches either the lymph nodes, the muscle layer of the esophagus, or the outer layer of the esophagus. Stage III occurs when the cancer grows through the outer layer of the esophagus and the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes. During this stage, the cancer might have invaded the airways.
In Stage IV, the end stage of the disease, the cancer will have spread to other bodily organs, like the liver.