Esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus which is a long hollow tube that runs from your throat to your stomach. Your esophagus carries food you swallow to your stomach to be digested. Esophageal cancer usually begins in the cells that lines the inside of the esophagus, cancer can occur anywhere along the esophagus. Cancer is what happens when cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed and then the mass of excessive cells forms a tumor. When esophageal cancer spreads it usually first goes to your lymph nodes, from there it can spread to almost anywhere in your body including your liver, lungs, brain, and bones.
There isn’t any known cause of esophageal cancer, but there are some risk factors. Esophageal cancer is more likely to occur when you are over the age of 60 and it is more common in men than women. Smoking or using tobacco of any kind, and drinking heavily also increases your chances of getting esophageal cancer. Any constant irritation of your esophagus will increase your risk, such as gastric reflux which is when the tissues at the bottom of your esophagus become irritated from stomach acid backing up into your esophagus.
Symptoms of esophageal cancer include difficulty or painful swallowing, severe weight loss, pain in the throat or back, hoarseness, vomiting, or coughing up blood. These symptoms may be caused by other issues as well, so make sure you see your doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms. When you go to your doctor there are a few tests they can do before diagnosing esophageal cancer. There is the barium swallow which consists of the patient drinking liquid containing barium which coats the esophagus making it easy to take an X-ray of your esophagus lining. Sometimes an endoscope, a thin tube with a lens, is put down the esophagus looking for any changes. Also tissue can be collected to be looked at for a biopsy.
There are a few different options of treatment; it will depend on what stage your cancer has progressed to, your overall health, the size of the tumor, and whether or not the cancer has spread. One option is surgery which can remove the tumor, part of the esophagus around it, and if needed the lymph nodes. Radiation therapy can be used which involves the use of high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells. The radiation can be from machines outside the body or radioactive materials placed in the tumor. Chemotherapy uses drugs usually given into a vein to kill the cancer; this can also be used with radiation therapy. Laser therapy uses high-intensity light to destroy the cancer. One more option is photodynamic therapy which involves the use of drugs that are absorbed by cancerous cells then when exposed to a special light the drugs become active and destroy the cancer cells.
Esophageal cancer is more common in Arica and Asia, here in the United States the incidence is higher in urban areas and overall the incidence is about 5 in every 100,000. We cannot help aging or our gender, but there are some things to help lower your risk of getting esophageal cancer. If you smoke or chew tobacco, quit today. If you do not touch tobacco, do not ever start. If you are going to drink alcohol make sure it is a limited amount, do not drink excessively. Make sure to eat plenty of raw fruits and vegetables. Make sure to maintain a healthy weight, if you are obese it increases your chances of having reflux problems and the acid could irritate your esophagus.
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