Cancer. The word alone is enough to scare even the strongest person. We hear every day about breast cancer, lung cancer, and many other types, but one form of cancer that doesn’t get much attention is esophageal cancer.

This form of cancer is rare with less than 200,000 cases yearly. However, if it isn’t caught and treated in a timely manner it can kill a person quickly.

Esophageal cancer is cancer of the esophagus. The esophagus is a tube of muscle that connects your throat to your stomach. It’s the passageway for food to make it to the stomach. It runs behind your windpipe and heart and in front of the spine.

Most common in people 40 and up (with a majority of cases in men 65 and older), esophageal cancer presents itself with several symptoms that when added up tend to point to the diagnosis. Although, an official diagnosis will require imaging tests like a CT Scan and even a biopsy.

What puts a person at risk for developing this cancer?

Most patients who present with cancer of the esophagus are men ages 65 and older.

There are several common risk factors for developing esophageal cancer. The most common is smoking. This is because when you smoke it’s more than just your lungs that are exposed to carcinogens. Your entire mouth and all connecting organs are affected. In fact, smoking poisons your entire body.

Additionally, individuals who experience acid reflux can develop esophageal cancer because of the way stomach acid can continually morph the cells of the esophagus.

What are the types of esophageal cancer?

Squamous cell esophageal cancer is most commonly found in patients who smoke and drink. Even those who use smokeless tobacco can develop this form of cancer.

Adenocarcinoma is related to acid reflux disease and is typically found in the lower third of the esophagus.

Additional forms of cancer found in the esophagus include lymphoma, sarcoma, malignant melanoma, choriocarcinoma, and small cell cancer. The type of cancer impacting you or your loved one can only be diagnosed through testing and imaging.

What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer is often characterized by unintentional weight loss, chest pain, trouble or pain when swallowing, and coughing or hoarseness. We recommend anyone with the risk factors and one or more of these symptoms bring them to the doctor’s attention immediately.

How is this cancer treated?

When Dr. McKenna and Dr. Onugha at our center for Minimally Invasive Chest Surgery and Thoracic Surgical Oncology, treat patients with esophageal cancer, they take a very individualistic approach. After going through your history, reviewing lab work and imaging, and talking with you they create a treatment plan that offers the biggest chance of success. Oftentimes this includes surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation.

While cancer is scary, it’s helpful to know you have a powerful team behind you working to help get you better.

If you have questions about esophageal cancer or are looking for a physician experienced in treating this form of cancer, give our office a call. We’d be happy to discuss options and schedule an appointment for you to meet with the doctor.

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About the Authors

Dr. Robert McKenna

Robert McKenna, M.D., is the Professor of Surgery, and Director of the Minimally Invasive Chest Surgery and Thoracic Surgical Oncology Center at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Dr. Robert McKenna is an internationally renowned thoracic surgeon, who has dedicated over 2 decades in General Thoracic surgery research and clinical care. Learn More About Dr. Robert McKenna.

Osita, M.D., MBA Onugha,

Osita Onugha, M.D., MBA, is the Assistant Professor of Minimally Invasive Chest Surgery and Thoracic Surgical Oncology at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Dr. Onugha is a board-certified surgeon and assistant professor of thoracic surgery at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. Dr. Onugha practices all aspects of thoracic surgery, including procedures for benign and malignant conditions of the lung, esophagus and mediastinum. Learn More About Dr. Osita Onugha.

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