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Esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus, which is a 25 centimeter hollow tube that goes from the throat to the stomach. It carries food that has been swallowed to the stomach where it is then digested. Esophageal cancer begins in the cells lining the esophagus and can be located anywhere in the esophagus. In the United States, esophageal cancer is located in the lower portion of the esophagus, near the stomach.
Common signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include: difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, chest pain, fatigue, choking, heartburn, and coughing. Early stages of esophageal cancer show no signs and symptoms.
There are two different types of esophageal cancer: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is in the mucous secreting glands of the esophagus. It is often in the lower part of the esophagus and is also the most common type of esophageal cancer in the United States. Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer is the small, flat cells that line the inside of the esophagus. It happens most often in the middle of the esophagus and is the most common type world wide.
It is not known as to what causes esophageal cancer exactly, but it is known that errors in the DNA cause the cells to grow rapidly creating a tumor in the esophagus that can in turn spread to nearby structures and then travel to other parts of the body. Risk factors that may contribute to esophageal cancer are: drinking alcohol, chewing tobacco, smoking tobacco, gasotroesophageal reflux (GERD), and Barrett’s Esophagus. Esophageal cancer is also more common in males ages 45-70.
As the cancer progresses it can causes some complications. These complications include; blockage of the esophagus. As the tumor grows bigger it can make it harder for food and liquids to pass. Also, a patient with esophageal cancer may have serve weight loss. This is a result of the blockage in the esophagus that may be painful for the patient therefore he does not eat.
Treatments of esophageal cancer are decided by which type of cancer the patient has and his overall health. Different types of treatment include: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Surgery is used to remove small tumors, to remove small sections of the esophagus, or to remove the lower portion of the esophagus and the upper portion of the stomach. Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. People with advanced esophageal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body use chemotherapy to target cancer cells. Radiation is high-powered beams used to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are most often used together in the treatment of a patient with esophageal cancer.