So, if you think you have this cancer, it’s vital to call your healthcare provider and run the recommended tests for definitive answers. Here, you’ll find what esophageal cancer is, its early signs in men and women, its causes, treatments, and everything else you must know about it.
Understanding What Is Esophageal Cancer
Firstly, before we explore the signs and causes of this cancer, it becomes essential that we understand what esophageal cancer exactly is. As previously mentioned, esophageal cancer is a relatively rare cancer that happens in your esophagus. For those unaware of the term esophagus, your food pipe or a long and hollow tube starts from your mouth to the stomach. This pipe carries your food from the mouth to the stomach so it can be digested successfully.
It occurs in your esophagus tissues and can start anywhere along your food pipe. Statistically speaking, esophagus cancer is more common in men compared to women. Usually, in the early stages of this cancer, the healthcare provider will use surgery to ease symptoms and remove the tumors. On the other hand, if you are in the advanced or late stage of this cancer, your doctor may use treatments like radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and chemotherapy.
For individuals whose cancer is not treatable, the healthcare provider will use treatments that may help ease the esophageal cancer symptoms, help individuals live longer, and maintain quality of life. Many researchers are working toward finding treatments to help people with cancer live longer.
How Does Esophageal Cancer Kill You And Affect Your Body?
Before we discuss how this cancer kills you, it’s essential to learn how it affects your body and creates abnormalities in it. Esophagus cancer starts with the multiplication of cancerous cells present in the esophageal tissue. These cancer cells continue to multiply, developing a tumor near the affected area. This cancer is fast at spreading and is often referred to as aggressive cancer. However, a person may overlook this cancer until it spreads.
Esophageal cancer goes undetected for so long because it stretches to make space for large food bites, and a person may only notice it when the tumor spread actually makes it hard for your food pipe to work optimally. The tumor growth can block your food pipe’s opening, resulting in trouble while swallowing or experiencing pain as it hurts to swallow.
Now, coming to the topic, how does esophageal cancer kill you? As previously mentioned, this cancer starts in your esophagus. However, in many cases, esophageal cancer can spread to your liver, causing fever and abnormal liver enlargement, known as hepatomegaly. When this cancer affects your lungs, you can experience chronic cough, pleura (fluid collection within the membrane) surrounding the lungs, and shortness of breath.
On the other hand, esophagus cancer spread to your bones can develop bone pain. This cancer spreads to your brain, leading to confusion, headaches, and seizures. So, with this, now you know why esophageal cancer is so deadly.
Also, let’s see the types of food pipe cancer:
This esophagus cancer type is quite common in the US, which starts in your tissue that helps make mucus that makes food swallowing easier. Usually, it affects the lower part of your food pipe.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This food pipe cancer type develops in your digestive tract lining. Furthermore, squamous cell cancer typically affects the middle and upper parts of the esophagus.
Is Esophageal Cancer Curable?
Now, after knowing how esophageal can affect your body and potentially kill you, you may want to know if esophageal cancer can be cured. A one-word answer to this question is no; esophagus cancer cannot be cured. However, this cancer can be treated, and many people survive it with timely treatment. This increases the importance of catching the early signs of this cancer.
If your doctor diagnoses this cancer in you at an early stage, there is a significant chance of your full recovery. But, in most cases, this cancer is diagnosed in patients when it has already spread or is in the advanced stage. In later stages, your doctor may only be able to treat your cancer. And, there are very rare chances that your healthcare provider will be able to cure your cancer.
While there is no cure for food pipe cancer, your doctor can help you deal with its symptoms so that you can manage it well at your level. This cancer can return, and during that time, your doctor will use other treatments to help you deal with this cancer.
How Long Can You Have Esophageal Cancer And Not Know?
There is no straight answer to how long you can have esophageal cancer and not know. Cancer, in general, can stay inside you for months to years before it gets detected. Talking about esophageal cancer, it’s tough to spot its symptoms at early stages, and because of that, you may not know you have it until it has already spread inside your body. While there is no specific answer, this cancer can stay around four to five years in your body without being detected.
So, if you notice you have the symptoms of food pipe cancer which we will mention next, it is highly recommended you visit your doctor. Getting an early diagnosis and treatment for this cancer is highly important to save yourself from getting it worse, increasing your suffering.
What Are The Early Signs Of Esophageal Cancer? Esophageal Cancer Symptoms
Firstly, you need to understand that there are no such things as early signs and symptoms of esophagus cancer. So, if your search is for what is the first sign of esophageal cancer, you need to know you’ll not find satisfactory results on it. However, even if it doesn’t count as early signs, a few first signs of food pipe cancer include trouble swallowing or feeling pain while swallowing the food. Furthermore, a few patients may even experience food choking in this cancer.
These early symptoms will worsen as your esophagus narrows down due to growing cancer. While difficulty swallowing is usually the first sign, there are a few other symptoms of this cancer, including:
- Pain in the back or throat, between the shoulder blades, or behind the breastbone.
- Coughing or vomiting up blood.
- Chronic cough or hoarseness.
- Unexpected weight loss.
- Worsening indigestion
Esophageal cancer symptoms remain the same in females and males. So, generally, the diagnosis process, as well as treatment, are the same for both genders.
What Are The Signs Of Dying From Esophageal Cancer?
Previously, we mentioned the early signs and symptoms of this cancer. However, those symptoms are only limited to individuals in the early stages of esophagus cancer. For people in the late or end stage of this cancer, their symptoms can vary significantly from those in advanced and early stages.
The signs of dying or end-stage signs of esophageal cancer include:
- Sore throat and worsening cough.
- Increased harness and speaking difficulty.
- Vomiting and nausea.
- Joint and bone pain.
- Esophagus bleeding leads to blood in the stool and digestive tract.
- Labored breathing, impaired or difficulty in breathing.
- Fatigue and anemia due to blood loss because of cancer treatments and medications or side effects of medication.
How Do You Get Esophageal Cancer? Causes Of Esophageal Cancer
So, after understanding the symptoms of food pipe cancer at early and late stages in both men and women, the next thing to look out for is esophageal cancer causes. While healthcare providers are unsure of what exactly causes this cancer, a few risk factors can lead to the development of food pipe cancer in a person. The risk of esophagus tumor include:
- Alcohol use: A person is at more risk of developing esophageal cancer if they drink alcohol regularly and are a heavy or chronic user of alcohol.
- Tobacco use: Using tobacco products like cigarettes and smokeless tobacco can increase the risk of this cancer.
- HPV (Human papillomavirus): It is a common virus that leads to tissue changes on your hands, genitals, and feet, and in your mouth and vocal cords.
- Obesity: Being obese or overweight makes you prone to inflammation in your food pipe. This inflammation can later take turn to become cancer.
- Chronic acid reflux and Barrett’s esophagus: A condition like Barrett’s esophagus happens when your cells change at the lower end of the food pipe. This usually happens due to untreated chronic acid reflux.
- Exposure to certain chemicals: If your work involves working with dry cleaning solvents for a long time, you are likely to develop this cancer.
- Cancer history: If someone has a history of head or neck cancer, there is a greater risk of developing this cancer.
- Other disorders: This cancer has a link with inherited and rare conditions. Achalasia is one such rare disease that can make things like swallowing food difficult. Furthermore, we have tylosis disorder, an inherited rare disease that causes excess growth of skin on your palms and feet soles.
Is Esophageal Cancer Hereditary?
Well, when we are talking about the risk factors and causes of esophagus tumors, you might have concerns over whether this cancer is hereditary or not. The answer to this question is that inherited gene mutations your family passes over rarely cause this cancer. As we have discussed, achalasia and tylosis disorder are rare inherited diseases that can increase your risk of developing food pipe cancer. But, in no way will you develop this cancer just because there is a case of your family member having it.
On the other hand, esophageal cancer is part of the acquired gene mutations, which is usually the case for people developing this cancer. In fact, gene mutations that cause cancer are mostly part of the acquired mutations. So, in case you develop this cancer, it will only happen during your lifetime. And this condition will not be passed to your children, or they will have any risk of developing it because of you.
From this, we can conclude that esophageal tumors, which happen due to DNA mutations, are acquired during an individual’s lifetime and are not inherited. In most cases, alcohol and tobacco consumption are the major risk factors that can lead to these conditions. However, for now, we don’t have any specific cause which can cause food pipe cancer.
Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis: How Is Esophageal Cancer Diagnosed?
Now, for the next thing, we have how healthcare providers diagnose esophagus cancer in a person. Well, this usually depends on the symptoms and medical history of patients with this cancer. Your doctor, depending on this data, can use various tests to diagnose your current condition:
Computed tomography helps doctors to check if your tumors have reached the abdomen (belly) and chest.
This test helps your healthcare provider to look into your food pipe by taking multiple X-rays. The reason why this test is known as barium swallow is that for this test, you have to consume liquid containing barium. This liquid makes it easy for the healthcare provider to watch your food pipe on the X-ray.
Esophagogastroduodenoscopy uses a thin, flexible tube known as an endoscope that helps the healthcare provider look inside your esophagus.
While in the EGD, your healthcare provider may take a small portion of your tissue to examine it later under a microscope to determine the existence of cancer cells.
After the diagnosis, based on the results, your healthcare provider will classify your cancer in various stages. Your cancer stage will determine whether your condition is at its base, advanced, or the last stage.
Furthermore, cancer staging depends upon the factors such as your tumor depth and location, if it has spread close to the lymph nodes, and if the tumor has spread to your distant organs or tissues.
Other than that, your healthcare provider also states the grades of the tumor. These grades help determine where these cancer cells act and look like healthy cells. Usually, low-grade tumors spread slowly and have a slow growth rate. At the same time, high-grade tumors contain aggressive cells with a quick spread and growth rate.
Esophageal Cancer Progression Timeline: Esophageal Cancer Staging And Survival Rates
Now, before we jump into this cancer’s treatments, it is essential to understand how different-stage cancers differ from each other. Understanding what stage signifies what, you will learn how to tackle your situation more openly. Talking about the esophageal cancer progression timeline, this cancer is divided into four stages, which run from 0 to IV.
In the first stage of esophagus cancer, cancer only affects the lining of the food pipe. In addition, this stage is relatively easy to treat and has high survival rates. However, for other stages where cancer spreads to the other parts of your body and affects your organs and tissues, such conditions can be challenging to manage and treat. So, let’s explore the stages of food pipe cancer so you can know your stage better:
This is the primary stage of esophagus cancer. If you are diagnosed with this cancer stage, your chances of full recovery are pretty high. This stage signifies that your cancer has not yet spread to other organs or parts of your body. Also, it means the cancer is in its base developing stage, so you’ll not experience any symptoms while in this stage.
Regarding the esophageal cancer survival rate for stage 0, around 80 to 90 percent of cancer patients diagnosed with this stage survive five years after receiving the treatment.
At this stage, the tumor has spread deeper into the esophagus tissues. However, cancer has yet to affect the organs or nearby lymph nodes. The five-year survival rate for individuals diagnosed with stage I cancer is 34 percent.
In an advanced-stage food pipe tumor, where cancer has spread to the esophageal wall and deeper tissues, there is a high chance it will affect lymph nodes close to the food pipe. For individuals diagnosed with stage II cancer, their five-year survival rate is 17 percent.
A stage just before the last stage of esophagus cancer where cancer has spread beyond the esophagus wall and nearby surrounding tissues to lymph nodes. However, the tumor is yet to affect the other organs. The common symptoms of this stage are difficulty swallowing and throat pain. Patients receiving radiation and chemotherapy during stage III cancer have a chance to survive between three and five years. In this stage, the survival rate is 20 to 30 percent.
In this stage, cancer has metastasized and has spread to other body parts. Since this is the last stage of food pipe cancer, it is pretty challenging to treat this condition. Due to this, the five-year survival rate for patients diagnosed with stage IV cancer is as low as 2.8 percent.
Your cancer stage plays a significant role in deciding the proper treatment for your condition. Based on your stage, the healthcare provider will introduce various treatments to manage your symptoms and treat the disease. In the next section, let’s look at these treatments only.
Esophageal Cancer Treatments: What Are The Treatments For Esophageal Cancer?
So, as previously mentioned, the esophageal cancer treatment your healthcare provider will offer you depends upon the tumor stage as well as the grade. Now, let’s see the treatment options available to treat food pipe cancer:
A popular treatment for cancer is where a radiation beam is used to target the tumor or cancerous cells. These beams help eliminate or damage your body’s cancer cells. Furthermore, your doctor may use this as adjuvant therapy to kill the left cancer cells in your body. This means you may have before and after sessions of radiation therapy.
ESD (Endoscopic Submucosal Dissection)
ESD is famous among surgeons for treating early-stage patients of esophageal cancer. Your doctor may consider this treatment if you have low-stage cancer.
Your doctor may perform esophagectomy, a well-known early-stage food pipe cancer treatment. The surgeon will remove a small portion or most of the surrounding tissue and esophagus in this treatment. After that, the surgeon will develop a new food pipe by pulling up part of the stomach into the neck and chest.
EMR (Endoscopic Mucosal Resection)
Your surgeon may use this treatment to remove cancers in the mucous lining of the esophagus. It is more famous for patients with early-stage esophagus tumors.
This treatment helps eliminate cancer cells and prevent their growth. It is usually given to patients with radiotherapy.
In this therapy, the healthcare provider will use immune checkpoint inhibitors so that your immune system can eliminate the cancer cells in your body. The purpose of these drugs is to help restore the response of the immune system to food pipe cancer cells.
Endoscopic Laser Therapy
This therapy helps ease symptoms where your tumors block your food pipe, making you struggle to swallow food.
Sometimes, a few esophagus cancer cells contain high levels of the HER2 protein. This protein is responsible for the growth of cancer cells. Using the targeted therapy, your doctor will help treat this cancer with the drugs targeting this protein.
PDT (Photodynamic Therapy)
In this therapy, the use of photosensitizer drugs is involved. Photodynamic therapy helps destroy tumors using these drugs. The light activates these drugs and creates a chemical reaction that eliminates cancer.
How To Manage Your Condition After Receiving The Treamtent/S?
After receiving the esophagus treatment, you may suffer from side effects such as vomiting, nausea, or heartburn. These side effects are temporary, but you may need your doctor’s assistance to manage them. Usually, individuals after going through cancer treatment, one may face the following problems:
A person may struggle to eat food or experience pain while swallowing food after this treatment, which can lead to weight loss. While the treatment can help remove the tumor, you may still have trouble swallowing. Your healthcare provider may suggest things like having smaller meals and consuming nutritional supplements.
This is common in people whose stomach has replaced their food pipe. Your stomach may struggle to hold the food to facilitate digestion, because of which the food passes quickly to the intestines. These symptoms include diarrhea, sweating, nausea, stomach cramps, vomiting, or skin flushing.
As food pipe cancer returns, you must make some lifestyle changes, including limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco altogether. If you can, please stop smoking, as it is the leading factor of this cancer. Take help from your healthcare provider if you want to stop smoking.
Esophageal Cancer Prevention: How To Prevent Esophageal Cancer?
While multiple treatments are available to treat esophagus tumors, the chances of this cancer returning are always there. Not only that, in most cases, you may not even know you have food pipe cancer until the cancer is already in its advanced or late stage. Therefore, learning about how to prevent esophageal cancer becomes highly essential. However, the question is, can you prevent esophageal cancer?
Although it’s not entirely possible to prevent all types of esophagus cancer, you can surely lessen the risk of developing it by avoiding the risk factors of this cancer.
Try Not To Drink Alcohol Or Use Tobacco Products
One of the biggest risk factors for food pipe tumors in the United States is the consumption of tobacco and alcohol. A person who uses either of these can increase their chance significantly of developing this cancer. Furthermore, if someone drinks as well as smokes, the risk of having this cancer increases even more. Therefore, if you want to prevent this cancer, you should avoid alcohol and tobacco products as much as possible.
Maintain A Good Diet, Body Weight, And Regular Physical Activity
Besides not smoking and drinking alcohol, looking out for your eating pattern and weight levels is essential. A healthy and nutritious diet of vegetables and fruit may help lower the risk of developing esophageal cancer. Furthermore, you should look out for obesity as it has a connection with esophagus cancer.
So, while eating healthy, you must also maintain good weight levels as it may help lower the risk of having this condition. Also, try to perform physical activities, so your body can remain active from inside as well.
Esophageal cancer prevention is possible if you limit your alcohol and tobacco consumption, exercise regularly while eating healthy foods, and treat your gastric reflux condition timely.
Esophageal Cancer Prognosis And Outlook
How well you perform with this cancer will depend on your overall health and if you receive the diagnosis before cancer spreads. In most cases, doctors can successfully treat early-stage esophagus cancer. Statistically, around 46% of people are alive after five years of being diagnosed with this cancer.
This data suggests a significant improvement in the esophageal cancer survival rate. Previously, around the 1960s and 1970s, only five percent of patients survived five years after being diagnosed with this cancer. Presently, this percentage number has risen to 20%, which significantly improves the survival rate.
If we talk about esophageal cancer survival rate by age, you should know that the survival rate decreases as a person ages. For men in the age group of 50-59, the survival rate is around 18%. Whereas the men in the 80-99 age group, this rate drops to 6%. On the other hand, the five-year survival rate for women is 28%, and 4% being part of the same age groups.
Your healthcare may not be able to cure your cancer if it has already been spread. However, they can provide treatments that can help control these cancer symptoms so that you can live pain-free and maintain your quality of life. For this, your healthcare provider may recommend palliative care so you can live pain-free and comfortably.
Esophageal cancer is rare and can be challenging to treat. Typically, people do not notice they have the symptoms before this cancer has already spread. While early-stage cancers can be treated successfully, late-stage cancers can be pretty hard to treat. Since there is no cure for esophageal cancer, your healthcare will use treatment to manage your symptoms and make your experience pain-free. During this time, ensure you have someone you can share your feelings with. It can be challenging, but you should stay strong as you will have to fight this cancer successfully.
At University Cancer Centers, we help our patients tackle their conditions by giving proper guidance to them. We provide cancer treatment plans that include everything about which treatment will be best for your present conditions and what complications you can face. Our healthcare providers confirm your symptoms, grade, and stage by diagnosing your current health, medical history, and family history. For professional guidance on treating your cancer successfully, contact us at (713)-474-1414 or schedule an appointment by visiting our website.