Esophageal cancer is a very aggressive tumor predominantly affecting men. There are several histological types of the tumor, most of which stem from the epithelium of the organ. The majority of patients are diagnosed either with adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma.
Adenocarcinoma is commonly reported tumor, but the number of patients diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma surprisingly increases.
Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors
Both types of the tumor are closely related to smoking and alcohol consumption. Furthermore, Barrett's esophagus is a precancerous condition which at any point may progress into malignant tumor. Tylosis and Plummer-Vinson syndrome are also connected with the onset of esophageal cancer. Obesity is not a direct risk factor for esophageal cancer but it definitely increases chances for this malignant disease.
Esophageal Cancer - Symptoms and Signs
Patients suffering from this malignant tumor experience swallowing problems (dysphagia and odynophagia), they may vomit a lot and there is noticeable loss of appetite and associated weight loss. Bleeding from the tumor is blamed for anemia and the very blood may cause darkening of the stool.
In many patients the tumor has significantly advanced when they turn to their doctors.
Esophageal Cancer and Metastases
Esophageal cancer first affects the organ and infiltrates all its layers. The tumor may grow inside the organ, spread throughout the longitudinal axis or grow outside the organ affecting and infiltrating nearby tissues and organs.
Since the esophagus is a hollow organ, the presence of tumor does not allow food and fluids to pass into the stomach. They stuck in the organ and are frequently expelled by vomiting.
In the beginning, when tumor spread to other tissues, the firstly affected are regional lymph nodes. Also, the tumor may penetrate all the layers and infiltrate the stomach, trachea and larynx. Infiltration of the larynx is usually accompanied by hoarseness because of damage to the recurrent laryngeal nerve. If the trachea is infiltrated, one eventually ends up with an esophagotracheal fistula, an opening that allows entrance of the food from the esophagus into the trachea. This increases the chance of aspiration and lung infections. If tumor spreads to the diaphragm, one may start to hiccup uncontrollably. Infiltration of the liver is associated with jaundice and malfunction of the organ (the presence of many metastases).
Unfortunately, once the person enters terminal stage and tumor spreads to other organs and organ systems patients may only undergo palliation. The goal of palliation is reduction of all the existing symptoms. It is achieved with radiation therapy, chemotherapy, electrocautery, plasma/laser ablation, photodynamic therapy, tube stent placement and pain management.