Also known as Esophageal Carcinoma, Esophageal cancer is a cancer that occurs in the Esophagus – the long narrow tube that runs through the throat to the stomach. Esophagus’ primary function is to help move food from the back of the throat during swallowing, and this tube is lined with cells (squamous cells) which is the starting point for the development of cancer.
Esophageal cancer is classified according to the type of cells that are involved. The type of esophageal cancer determines the type of treatment to be given. Types of esophageal cancer include:
- Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma occurs most often in the lower portion of the esophagus.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: The squamous cells are flat, thin cells that line the surface of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs most often in the upper and middle portions of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent esophageal cancer worldwide.
- Other rare types: Some rare forms of esophageal cancer include small cell carcinoma, sarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma and choriocarcinoma.
Esophageal cancer occurs more in men, and is currently the sixth most common cancer in our world today, with fewer than a hundred thousand occurring in Nigeria every year. Most common risk factors for this disease are;
- tobacco use,
- alcohol intake,
- some nutritional habits like not eating enough fruits & vegetables
- Obesity. Other factors include
- previous history of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD),
- barrett’s esophagus (precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus),
- achalasia (difficulty swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that won’t relax) and
- undergoing previous radiation treatment to the chest and abdomen.
Most common signs and symptoms of Esophageal cancer include;
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Weight loss without trying
- Chest pain, pressure or burning
- Worsening indigestion or heartburn
- Coughing or hoarseness.
Although early esophageal cancer has no signs and symptoms, screening for esophageal cancer isn’t done routinely except for patients with Barrett’s esophagus because of a lack of other easily identifiable high-risk groups. Many steps can be taken to prevent this cancer and they include;
- Quit smoking. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about strategies for quitting. Medications and counseling are available to help you quit.
- Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Add a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, talk to your doctor about strategies to help you lose weight. Aim for a slow and steady weight loss of 1 or 2 pounds a week.
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