What is Esophageal Cancer?

what-is-esophageal-cancerEsophageal cancer occurs in the tissues lining the esophagus, a muscular tube that acts as a food passage from the throat to your stomach. There are two common kinds of esophageal cancer and they are known as Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus.

These two common esophageal cancer types are named on the basis of how the cancerous cells look under the microscope. Both the cancers occur in cells that form the inner lining of your esophagus. The estimated new cases of esophageal cancer in the United States in 2014 are 18,170 while deaths caused by both types of cancer are 15,450.

Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (AC)

Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is a type of esophageal cancer that will normally occur in the lower part of your esophagus, closer to your stomach. Adenocarcinoma is considered as one of the most common types of esophageal cancer in the United States today.

It is estimated that almost 12,000 Americans were diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (AC) in 2013. This common esophagus cancer is known to be related to acid reflux also known as the the backward flow of stomach acid. Patients diagnosed with Barrett esophagus are the most prone to this type of esophageal cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC or SqCC) is a type of esophagus cancer that will normally occur in the upper part of your esophagus. Although it is not as common in the United States, it is prevalent in other parts of the world. SCC is also defined as the cancer of a specific type of epithelial cell known as the squamous cell.

It is estimated that almost 6,000 Americans were diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in 2013. SCC tumors can be revealed through diagnosis and may be related to heavy tobacco smoking or consumption of alcohol.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer

There are several different symptoms of esophageal cancer that can be seen on patients although these symptoms can be noticed only in advanced stages of the cancer. Some of the symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Painful to swallow food or other swallowing problems
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Coughing
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Pain in the chest mostly behind your breastbone
  • Hoarseness in the throat
  • Ulcer or reddish skin plaque in SCC
  • Reflux of food back into the esophagus

Diagnosis of esophageal cancer

The symptoms that suggest esophageal cancer can be due to other reasons as well and hence it is important to get proper diagnosis to confirm its presence. Apart from physical examination, your doctor may ask you for family health history. You will have to also undergo blood tests. The other tests and examinations for esophageal cancer include:

a)      Endoscopy: It is a process wherein your doctor will insert an endoscope into your esophagus. An endoscope is a thin, flexible, lightweight tube that enables doctors to look into your esophagus. The endoscope is inserted through the nose or the mouth to the esophagus. This procedure is known as esophagoscopy, upper endoscopy, or EGD.

b)     Barium swallow: This procedure involves taking ex-rays of your stomach and esophagus after you have consumed a barium solution. This solution will show your esophagus more clearly in the x-rays. This test is also known as the upper GI series.

c)      Biopsy: Esophageal cancer normally occurs in the inner lining of the esophagus. Hence, the endoscope is used for removing a tissue from the esophagus. This tissue is checked under a microscope to determine the existence of cancer cells. This is called a biopsy procedure and it helps in identifying the presence of cancer cells.