Esophageal Cancer On the Rise
Esophageal Cancer Symptoms
Symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing
- Pain behind the breastbone
- Coughing (sometimes blood is seen in sputum produced by cough)
- Weight loss, which can be severe
- Frequent heartburn or indigestion
These symptoms should trigger an immediate call to your doctor, particularly
in someone with frequent reflux symptoms
Treatment for Esophageal Cancer
Doctors use a variety of approaches to cure or control esophageal
- Surgery (esophagectomy, or removal of the esophagus)
- Radiation therapy
- Photodynamic therapy (using a light-activated chemical to attack the
Most patients will undergo esophagectomy. This major surgery requires
opening the chest or abdomen. Further treatment depends on what physicians find
during the surgery.
Unfortunately, esophageal cancer usually spreads microscopically (called
metastasis) before patients feel any symptoms. Even after successful surgery,
these undetectable cancer deposits eventually grow larger and cause more
For this reason, many cancer centers use chemotherapy and radiation therapy
as well as surgery. These methods attempt to kill any cancer that has already
spread from the esophagus to the rest of the body.
To try to improve cure rates, the National Cancer Institute is recruiting
patients for clinical trials in esophageal cancer. You can find details at
www.cancer.gov or by calling (800) 4-CANCER.
Prevention of Esophageal Cancer: Changing Habits for Hope
Prevention is the key for any form of cancer. Because esophageal cancer
often spreads before it's detected, prevention is even more important.
There are many things you can do to lower your risk for esophageal
- Quit tobacco! Stopping smoking will lower the risk for many cancers and
other diseases, not just esophageal cancer
- Limit alcohol to one to two drinks per day for men, and one drink per day
- Eat a diet high in green and yellow vegetables, and a variety of
- Taking aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for other
reasons may reduce the risk for esophageal cancer. Don't start a new
medicine without talking to your doctor.
What about treating reflux symptoms? Since reflux and Barrett's esophagus
cause esophageal cancer, it seems likely that treating reflux symptoms would
prevent esophageal cancer. Surprisingly, there is so far no proof of this.