Esophageal cancer is the type of cancer that develops in the tissue of the esophagus. Esophagus is located between the throat and stomach and its main purpose is to get the food and liquid a person consumes down to the stomach. The walls of this organ do not have just one layer but lots of them. Some of the layers are mucous membrane, muscle and connective tissue. Inside layer is the usual place where cancer starts to develop. From there, cancer moves to the other layers.
How Fast does Esophageal Cancer Develop
A fair number of types of esophageal cancer exist but two are seen most often. These two are called squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Both types got their names according the cells where the cancer develops. Squamous cell carcinoma can start anywhere along the esophagus but is mainly seen in the middle and upper part of it. On the other hand, adenocarcinoma usually develops in the lower part of the esophagus, closer to the stomach.
Risk factors are present with every type of cancer and the situation is no different with cancer of the esophagus. Some of factors can be influenced like tobacco use and heavy alcohol use while other risk factors such as being male, African-American and of old age cannot. A certain condition named Barrett syndrome increases the risk of esophageal cancer as well.
Noticing the early signs of cancer is essential because the chances of survival are higher if the treatment started in the early stages of the disease. Problems with swallowing and weight loss are two of the signs that are seen most often. Apart from them, pain behind the breastbone, cough, hoarseness, indigestion and heartburn are also some of the symptoms that can point to cancer of the esophagus.
Proper diagnosis of esophageal cancer requires certain tests and examinations. Chest x-ray, barium swallow, esophagoscopy and biopsy are used most often when a diagnosis of this type of cancer needs to be made. Apart from these tests, the doctor will perform a physical exam and talk to the patient about the symptoms he or she is experiencing and medical history.
Once the diagnosis is made, the doctor will make a prognosis. However, making a prognosis is not an easy task and several factors like the stage of the cancer, the size of the tumor and the general health of the patient play a vital role. Discovering the cancer in its early stages provides more chances of a successful treatment. However, the problem with this cancer type is that it is usually diagnosed in an advanced stage. The cancer can be treated in later stages but the patient does not often survive.
Almost every type of cancer spreads through the body. Cancer of the esophagus does this in three ways. The cancer can attack the surrounding normal tissue and move through them. If it attacks the lymph system, the cancer will be able to move through the lymph vessels all over the body. The cancer can also move through blood if it invades the veins and capillaries. When the cancer spreads from the esophagus to other parts of the body, other tumors may form. Metastasis is the name of that process. The secondary tumor is of the same type as the primary tumor.
What are the Treatment Options for Esophageal Cancer
Those diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus have several available treatment options. These options are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. A combination of these treatments is often used as it increases the chance of survival in some situations. More than one type of surgery exists for this type of cancer and the type that is used mainly depends on the location of the cancer. In a majority of patients the part of the esophagus with cancer, lymph nodes and nearby soft tissues is removed. In some situation even a part of the stomach is removed as well. However, not every person can receive all treatments. Certain factors that determine the type of treatment exist. General health of the patient, the symptoms, the location of the cancer in the esophagus and the fact whether tumor has spread to lymph nodes or other organs or invaded nearby structures are the most significant factors that decide the type of treatment.
The doctors are unable to control the cancer of the esophagus as well as they would like with the possible treatment options and that is one of the main reasons why lots of doctors advise patients to consider taking part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a research study of new ways of treatment. Patients with all stages of esophageal cancer should be aware of the importance of clinical trials.
The actual treatment for this type of cancer is not often decided by only the doctor and the patient. A group of specialists is usually involved in the process.