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Signs of Esophageal Cancer Can Be Subtle – You Should Know Them

With some diseases, you can watch for symptoms and take action to get prompt treatment. With esophageal cancer, you may not notice symptoms until it has developed, but you can reduce your risk by making some lifestyle choices.

What is Esophageal Cancer?

The esophagus is the muscular tube that carries food and liquids from your throat to your stomach.

Esophageal cancer is not common but still affects about 18,000 new patients each year. It’s considered one of the more aggressive cancers treated in United States today.

The esophageal cancer is classified according to the type of cells that are involved. The most common types are:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma – Squamous cells are flat thin cells that line the surface of the esophagus
  • Adenocarcinoma – Begins in the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the esophagus

What are The Risks of Esophageal Cancer?

Men have about a 10-fold risk compared to women. Some common risk factors:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking
  • Long-standing acid reflux (heartburn)
  • Barrett’s esophagus (precancerous condition occurring in the esophageal lining due to acid reflux)
  • Obesity
  • Long-standing injury or irritation of esophagus
  • Intake of red meat
  • Eating foods high in N-nitroso compounds (found in processed meat)

What are The Signs of Esophageal Cancer?

Early in its development, esophageal cancer usually doesn’t show signs. As it continues development, you may notice:

  • Painful/difficulty swallowing
  • The feeling that you have something stuck in your throat
  • Chronic hoarse voice or cough that doesn’t go away
  • Unexpected weight loss

Diagnosis and Treatment

If there is a concern about esophageal cancer, your health care provider will conduct several tests. The tests typically include a combination of chest X-rays, barium esophagogram, endoscopy, blood tests, endoscopic ultrasound (EUS), and computed tomography (CT) scan.

Esophageal cancer is difficult to treat because it’s usually diagnosed in late stages of disease. If identified in early stage, removal is possible by endoscopy using endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) technique. For many cases, surgery is done to remove the tumor. Doctors may also recommend chemotherapy and/or radiation for locally advanced tumors before surgery.

Your health care professional can provide you with more information about esophageal cancer if you still have questions.

Meet the Author

Venkata N. Muddana, MD is a Gastroenterologist in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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