In 2015, it is estimated that nearly 16,980 new cases of esophageal cancer will be recorded, in the United States alone and 3,410 of those will be females (SEER). The esophagus is part of the digestive system and is a muscular tube that connects the throat and stomach.
Once food is chewed and swallowed, it will move down the esophagus and into the stomach. The esophagus measures around 25-30cm L x 1.5-2cm W. Sphincter muscles layer the upper and lower openings of the esophagus, which stay closed most of the time, until the individual swallows food at which time, they will relax to allow the food to pass through to the stomach.
What is Esophagus Cancer
While many individuals will suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD and heartburn, if untreated can potentially lead to esophageal cancer. The squamous mucous membrane (lining of the esophagus) contains squamous cells, which are thin and flat. When the malignant cells form in the squamous cells, it is known as epidermoid or squamous cell carcinoma.
Glandular cells (secretory cells) are also found in the mucous membrane. These cells are responsible for producing and releasing mucus, which are responsible for combating harmful bacterium, fungi, and viruses. When the malignant cells form in the secretory cells, it is known as adenocarcinoma.
What Causes of Esophagus Cancer
The most common causes of esophagus cancer is tobacco smoking, Barrett esophagus, and heavy alcohol use, but GERD has also been linked to this malignancy. When the squamous and glandular cells’ DNA develop mutations or error, esophageal cancer is inevitable.
These mutations cause in extreme increase in the cell growth and division, which will lead to them invading other body tissues.
Symptoms of Esophagus Cancer
Esophagus cancer signs can vary, but early malignancies will be asymptomatic.
- Unexplained weight loss
- Angina (chest pain) with pressure/burning
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Pain located behind the sternum
If you have been diagnosed with Barrett’s esophagus, you should familiarize yourself with esophagus cancer causes and symptoms, because you will be at a high risk.
Esophagus Risk Factors
There are many risk factors that make individuals at a higher risk of getting esophageal cancer at some point in their life.
- Aging adult
- African American race
- Severe gastric reflux
- Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis
When visiting your physician, he will begin the diagnosis with a full physical exam, while obtaining your personal and family medical history. A new innovative “pill on a string” (cytosponge) can potentially help diagnose esophageal cancer, while it is in its early stages. The cytosponge was developed by Rebecca Fitzgerald, medical researcher at University of Cambridge.
- Barium swallow
- Chest x-ray
- Squamous and glandular mucosal cell biopsy
Esophagus Cancer Survival Rate
There are many factors that will affect the survival rate and that is why it is very important to get diagnosed early. Other factors include the tumor’s size, overall general health and the stage of the cancer upon diagnosis.
If you are treated in the later stages, a cure is nearly impossible, but the symptoms can be controlled, with specific medications and surgery to relieve pain.
Esophageal Cancer Stages
There are several ways that malignancies spread through the body, which includes circulatory system (blood), lymph system (vessels, nodes), and tissue. Stages range from 0-IV:
- Stage 0 – abnormal cells are present in the mucosal membrane
- Stage I – Malignant cells are present in the mucosal membrane
- Stage II – Malignant cells have metastasized to connective tissue layer
- Stage III – Malignant cells have potentially metastasized into the muscle layer and 3-6 nearby lymph nodes, connective tissue and nearby 1-2 lymph nodes, or diaphragm, pleura or pericardial sac
- Stage IV – Malignant cells have metastasized to other body tissue, organs, or bone