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Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs in the esophagus—the hollow, layered tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Cancer of the esophagus typically develops in the innermost layer, known as the mucosa, and grows outward.

Causes of Esophageal Cancer

Researchers believe long-term irritation of the esophagus may lead to esophageal cancer. This irritation can result from medical conditions like Barrett’s esophagus, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Plummer-Vinson syndrome and achalasia, or from factors like:

  • Smoking
  • Chewing tobacco
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being overweight
  • Having a diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed meats

Esophageal cancer is also more likely to affect men than women and typically occurs in adults older than 45. While several risk factors for this disease have been identified, the exact cause of esophageal cancer is not fully understood.

Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

Esophageal cancer isn’t usually associated with noticeable symptoms in its early stages. As it progresses and invades surrounding tissues, esophageal cancer may cause:

  • Painful or difficult swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Choking when trying to swallow
  • Food coming back up the throat
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Voice hoarseness
  • Chronic cough
  • Fatigue

Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

Diagnosing esophageal cancer usually begins with a physical examination and review of your symptoms. From there, a physician may recommend:

  • An in-office endoscopy to view the lining of the esophagus in detail
  • A barium swallow X-ray to provide images of the esophagus
  • A biopsy to obtain a sample of suspicious tissue and test it for cancerous cells
  • Additional imaging to see if the cancer has spread to other areas of the body

Treatments for Esophageal Cancer

Tampa General Hospital’s Cancer Institute provides comprehensive care to patients with esophageal cancer. Treatment for esophageal cancer will depend on multiple factors, such as the cancer’s stage and the patient’s overall health. Surgery to remove tumors and surrounding tissue is often recommended for patients whose cancer has not spread outside of the esophagus, sometimes alongside radiation therapy or chemotherapy to help shrink cancerous growths prior to surgery. When surgery is not an option, treatments to slow cancer growth and reduce symptoms—such as radiation therapy and targeted therapy—may be recommended.