Esophageal Cancer


Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus is a tube from the mouth to the stomach through which food and liquids pass. Esophageal cancer is the rapid growth of cells in this area. 

Esophageal cancer can cause symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, chest pain, weight loss, shortness of breath or coughing.

If it is diagnosed at an early stage, the chances of cure may be better. Therefore, if you have symptoms such as difficulty swallowing or chest pain, you should talk to your doctor and have the necessary tests done. The risk of esophageal cancer can be reduced by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Esophageal cancer is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease characterized by the development of cancerous cells in the esophagus, the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

This type of cancer typically presents in two main forms: squamous cell carcinoma, which originates in the flat cells lining the esophagus, and adenocarcinoma, which begins in the cells that produce mucus and other fluids. Risk factors for esophageal cancer include smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, chronic acid reflux, and conditions like Barrett's esophagus.

Symptoms often include difficulty swallowing, weight loss, chest pain, and indigestion. Diagnosis is typically made through endoscopy and biopsy, followed by imaging tests to determine the stage.

Treatment options vary depending on the cancer's stage and may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of these methods. Early detection and treatment are crucial for improving survival rates.

What Are The Main Types of Esophageal Cancer?

The main types of esophageal cancer are:

  1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This type of esophageal cancer originates in the flat, thin cells called squamous cells that line the surface of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is more common in certain parts of the world and is often associated with smoking and alcohol consumption.
  2. Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells that produce mucus and other fluids. This type of cancer typically develops in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach. It is often linked to a history of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and is more common in Western countries, particularly among middle-aged and older adults, and those with a condition called Barrett's esophagus, where there's a change in the type of cells lining the lower esophagus.

These two types of esophageal cancer differ in their location within the esophagus, risk factors, and patterns of occurrence, but both require prompt medical attention and treatment.

What Are The Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

The symptoms of esophageal cancer typically become more noticeable as the cancer progresses. Common symptoms include:

  1. Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia): This is often one of the first symptoms. Initially, there might be a feeling of food being stuck in the throat or chest, or it might feel like swallowing is more difficult than usual.
  2. Weight Loss: Unintentional weight loss often occurs due to the difficulty in swallowing food and a decreased appetite.
  3. Chest Pain or Discomfort: Pain or discomfort might be felt behind the breastbone or in the throat.
  4. Indigestion or Heartburn: Persistent or worsening indigestion and heartburn can be symptoms.
  5. Hoarseness or Chronic Cough: Changes in the voice or a cough that doesn’t go away may be indicative of esophageal cancer affecting nearby structures.
  6. Regurgitation of Food: In advanced cases, there might be a regurgitation of food or liquids.

It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than esophageal cancer. However, if you experience persistent symptoms or any significant changes in your swallowing or digestive health, it's advisable to consult a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation. Early detection and diagnosis are key to better treatment outcomes.

What Treatment Options Are Available for Esophageal Cancer?

Treatment options for esophageal cancer depend on various factors, including the stage of the cancer, its location, the overall health of the patient, and whether the cancer has spread. The main treatment modalities include:

  1. Surgery:
    • Esophagectomy: Removal of part or all of the esophagus. In some cases, nearby lymph nodes are also removed.
    • Esophagogastrectomy: Removal of the upper part of the stomach along with part of the esophagus.
  2. Radiation Therapy:
    • External beam radiation: Directing radiation at the cancer from outside the body.
    • Brachytherapy (internal radiation therapy): Placing a radioactive source directly inside or near the cancer.
  3. Chemotherapy:
    • Uses drugs to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. It can be used before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) to shrink a tumor, after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to kill any remaining cancer cells, or as the main treatment if surgery isn't an option.
  4. Targeted Therapy:
    • Uses drugs that target specific aspects of cancer cells, like a protein that allows the cancer cells to grow in a rapid or abnormal way.
  5. Immunotherapy:
    • Helps the immune system recognize and attack cancer cells.
  6. Palliative Care:
    • Intended to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. It may include procedures to help with swallowing, such as placing a stent in the esophagus to keep it open or using laser therapy to remove part of a tumor blocking the esophagus.
  7. Combination Treatments:
    • Often, a combination of these treatments is used for better effectiveness, especially in advanced cases.

The choice of treatment is highly individualized and is best decided by a multidisciplinary team of specialists, including oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, and others, who will consider all aspects of the patient's condition and preferences. Early-stage cancers might be treated differently compared to advanced stages, where the focus may shift more towards palliative care to improve symptoms and quality of life.

Is Esophageal Cancer Common?

Esophageal cancer is not among the most common cancers worldwide, but its prevalence can vary significantly based on geographic location, gender, and specific risk factors. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Global Prevalence: The incidence of esophageal cancer differs globally. It's more common in certain regions, such as East Asia, Southern and Eastern Africa. In these areas, squamous cell carcinoma is the predominant type.
  2. Risk Factors: The prevalence is higher in populations with certain risk factors, such as heavy alcohol consumption, smoking, chronic acid reflux (GERD), obesity, and conditions like Barrett's esophagus.
  3. Gender Disparity: Generally, esophageal cancer is more common in men than in women.
  4. Adenocarcinoma in Western Countries: In Western countries, the incidence of esophageal adenocarcinoma has been increasing, particularly among middle-aged and older men. This rise is thought to be related to the increasing rates of obesity and GERD.
  5. Overall Statistics: Although it's not among the most common cancers, esophageal cancer is still a significant health concern due to its aggressive nature and the fact that it's often diagnosed at a late stage, making treatment more challenging.

In summary, while esophageal cancer is not as prevalent as some other types of cancer, such as breast, lung, or colorectal cancer, it remains an important health issue, especially in regions with high-risk populations and among individuals with specific risk factors.

Can Esophageal Cancer Be Prevented?

Prevention of esophageal cancer involves reducing the risk factors associated with the disease. While not all cases can be prevented, certain lifestyle changes and medical interventions can significantly lower the risk. Here are some key strategies:

  1. Avoid Tobacco and Limit Alcohol: Smoking and heavy alcohol use are major risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol consumption can reduce the risk.
  2. Manage Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): Chronic acid reflux can lead to Barrett's esophagus, a precursor for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Effective management of GERD through lifestyle changes and medication can help lower this risk.
  3. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Obesity, particularly abdominal obesity, is a risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma. Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise can help reduce this risk.
  4. Dietary Habits: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables may have a protective effect against esophageal cancer. Avoiding extremely hot beverages and foods might also be beneficial, as they can cause thermal injury to the esophageal lining.
  5. Regular Medical Check-ups: For individuals with known risk factors like Barrett's esophagus, regular endoscopic surveillance can help in early detection and management of precancerous changes.
  6. Avoid Exposure to Certain Chemicals: Occupational exposure to certain chemicals, like solvents used in dry cleaning, can increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus.
  7. Treat Helicobacter pylori Infection: There's some evidence that infection with Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium associated with stomach ulcers, might be inversely associated with esophageal adenocarcinoma. Treating this infection can have various gastrointestinal health benefits.

It's important to note that these measures can reduce the risk but not eliminate it entirely. Individuals with a family history of esophageal cancer or other significant risk factors should discuss with their healthcare provider about the best strategies for prevention and early detection.


Assoc. Prof. Dr. Ogün ErşenDate of birth 10.11.1987 Education and Expertise Karadeniz Technical University Faculty of Medicine Kocatepe University Ankara University Faculty of Medicine Konya Health Sciences University Professional Interests: Obesity (fatness) surgery and metabolic surgery Laparoscopic reflux surgery Laparoscopic gallbladder surgeries Gastric balloon application ERCP, EMR, ESD (Advanced Endoscopic procedures) Laparoscopic pancreatic cancer surgery Laparoscopic gastric and intestinal cancer surgeries Hemorrhoid surgeries Perianal fistula surgeries Laparoscopic abdominal and inguinal hernia surgeries Oncoplastic Breast cancer surgeries Natural cancer surgery (NOSE) Thyroid cancer and goiter surgeries. Memberships to Scientific Organizations Turkish Surgery Association Turkish Obesity Surgery Association Surgical Oncology Association National Society of Endoscopic Laparoscopic Surgery He is a member of the Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Association. Courses and Certificates: Turkish surgical association proficiency exam (Board) certificate of achievement in 2018 He has more than 100 papers presented in national and international congresses and more than 50 articles published in international journals. Foreign language English
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