Things to know:
- The oesophagus is a long and thin muscular tube that runs from your mouth to the stomach. It is an important part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. The oesophagus is responsible for transferring the ingested food to the stomach for digestion.
- Oesophagal cancer develops when the DNA in the healthy cells of the oesophagus begin to divide and multiply at an abnormal rate.
- There are no initial signs of oesophagal cancer. Symptoms may develop over time in later stages and include unintended weight loss, difficulty in swallowing, pain and pressure in the oesophagus, heartburn, and problems with digestion.
About Oesophagal Cancer
Oesophagal cancer occurs when cancerous cells begin to grow and multiply in the oesophagus tube.
The oesophagus tube is a muscular tube that is part of the digestive tract. It is a long, hollow tube that connects your mouth to the stomach. It is responsible for the transportation of food that you intake from your mouth.
Oesophagal cancer usually begins in the internal lining of the oesophagus. However, it can occur anywhere in the tube.
Oesophagal Cancer Symptoms
Oesophagal cancer symptoms affect everyone differently. The signs and symptoms vary depending on the exact location and stage of cancer.
Common oesophagal cancer symptoms include:
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Unintended and sudden weight loss
- Pain, pressure and a burning sensation in the chest
- Worsening indigestion
- Persistent coughing
There are no signs and symptoms of oesophagal cancer in the early stages.
Oesophagal Cancer Causes
There are no exact oesophagal cancer causes. This condition begins when healthy cells in the oesophagus divide and multiple abnormally at an unusual speed. This abnormal rate of cell division starts as a result of DNA changes (mutations) in the cells resulting in the formation of a tumour.
There are different types of oesophagal cancers based on their cause and site of development. These include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
- Small cell carcinoma
Chronic irritation is often considered a pre-determining factor for the development of oesophagal cancer. While oesophagal cancer can develop in anyone, some individuals are at a greater risk than others. Common risk factors include:
- History of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Barrett’s oesophagus (precancerous changes in the cells of the oesophagus)
- Obesity or being overweight
- Heavy drinking
- History of bile reflux
- Consistently drinking very hot liquids
- Inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables
Diagnosing Oesophagal Cancer
Your healthcare provider will order certain tests and procedures to help diagnose oesophagal cancer based on your symptoms and risks.
Common tests done to diagnose oesophagal cancer include:
Barium swallow study – Barium swallow study is an X-ray test that allows your doctor to visualise the inside of the oesophagus. In this procedure, you will be asked to swallow a liquid that includes barium to check abnormalities in the throat and oesophagus.
Endoscopy – An endoscopy is an imaging test in which your doctor inserts a long, thin tube attached with a tiny camera at one end, inside your throat and oesophagus. Endoscopy allows your doctor to precisely view and examine the insides of the oesophagus and even the small intestine.
Biopsy – A diagnostic biopsy is a procedure in which your healthcare provider collects a small tissue sample in your oesophagus. The doctor then sends the tissue sample to the laboratory to look for signs of cancer.
Once the cancer is diagnosed, your doctor will perform certain add-on tests to determine the extent and stage of cancer. Common tests done to diagnose the stage of oesophagal cancer include:
- Endoscopic ultrasound
- CT scan
Oesophagal Cancer Treatment
Oesophagal cancer treatment is based on the type and stage of cancer. There are several different modules available for effective treatment. Common alternatives include:
Surgery – Different types of surgeries can be done to remove tumours from the oesophagus. Based on the location and size of the tumour, your doctor will perform one of the following surgical procedures:
- Surgery to remove small tumours – This surgery is done when the tumours present in the oesophagus are small in size and confined to the superficial layer of the oesophagus. In this surgery, your surgeon may remove a small margin of healthy tissue surrounding the oesophagus.
- Surgery to remove a portion of the oesophagus – This surgery is known as esophagectomy. In this procedure, the surgeon removes the diseased portion of the oesophagus affected by cancer. Additionally, he/she also removes a portion of the upper part of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes.
- Surgery to remove part of the oesophagus and upper portion of the stomach – Known as esophagogastrectomy, this surgery involves removal of the diseased section of the oesophagus, nearby lymph nodes, and a large section of the upper stomach. The remaining part of the stomach is pulled up and reattached to the oesophagus.
Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment in which certain drugs and medications are administered to help destroy cancer cells and stop them from spreading. This treatment is usually given before or after surgery for maximum benefits.
Oesophagal Cancer Complications
Cancer is a life-threatening disease. If not treated timely, oesophagal cancer can develop further and cause a range of complications:
- Obstructions of the oesophagus
- Advancing pain
- Gradual and severe bleeding in the oesophagus
Oesophagal Cancer Prevention
It is possible to prevent the onset of oesophagal cancer. If you have an increased risk of developing oesophagal cancer, you may require early intervention and screening.
You can benefit from the following preventive tips:
- Quitting or avoiding smoking
- Drinking in moderation
- Eating more fruits and vegetables
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
The prognosis for oesophagal rate depends on the type, stage and location of cancer as well as its treatment protocol. At the CK Birla Hospital, we have high success rates in the treatment of oesophagal cancer for improved quality of life and prognosis.
If not detected and treated timely, cancer of the oesophagus can further divide and spread to other body organs. It is seen that oesophagal cancer can metastasise to the liver, lungs and lymph nodes.
One of the surgeries to remove oesophagus cancer is the removal of tumours, nearby lymph nodes, and the upper part of the stomach. As part of the oesophagus, your surgeon may also remove the voice box making you unable to speak.
Your surgeon will remove the affected portion of the oesophagus and reattach it with the rest of the stomach or part of the large intestine.