Have you ever attempted to swallow food and it feels like it's stuck in your throat (or somewhere in your upper chest)? Panic slowly begins to rise as it seems like your throat is starting to close and you feel like you can't breathe. You feel like you're choking until you drink something to get the food moving again.
If you've ever had that choking experience with food -- and it occurs quite often -- you may have cancer of the esophagus.
The esophagus is the long tube that transports food and drink between your mouth and your stomach. Cancer of the esophagus refers to tumors that eventually obstructs the esophagus and makes swallowing difficult.
Esophageal cancer mainly occurs in the lower portion of the esophagus, closer to your stomach. But it can occur anywhere along the esophagus from your throat to your stomach. Your risk of developing esophageal cancer greatly increases if you drink alcohol, or smoke cigarettes or weed. Esophageal cancer occurs more often in men than women.
Other factors that put you at risk of developing cancer of the esophagus includes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which causes Barrett's esophagus - an erosion of the lining of the esophagus. GERD is also known as acid reflux or heartburn.
It is not known what causes esophageal cancer. Cancer occurs when something triggers ordinary cells to begin multiplying rapidly. The rapid reproduction of cells forms a tumor. The tumor displaces other organs and may spread to other parts of the body (a medical term referred to as metastasis).
Signs and Symptoms
(Signs are what you see and symptoms are what you feel.) Early stages of esophageal cancer usually have no signs or symptoms.
Some of these symptoms could be caused by something as simple as the common cold or indigestion. But if you have persistent, nagging symptoms, or if you experience all of these symptoms, consult your doctor or health care professional as soon as possible.
It's a good idea to consult the Symptom Checker to help you better understand what your symptoms mean.
If your doctor suspects you may have esophageal cancer, he or she will order tests to confirm the diagnosis. Tests include a blood draw, X-rays, an endoscopy (a tube with a camera attached to see inside your esophagus), or a biopsy (cutting a sample of the affected area to examine under a microscope).
Treatment of esophageal cancer depends upon the stage of the cancer. Cancer is staged from 1 (the easiest to treat) to stage 4, which is usually terminal and the most difficult to treat because it has spread elsewhere in the body.
Once the cancer is staged the doctor decides the appropriate treatment mode which can include surgery to remove part or all of the tumor, or to widen the esophagus. In some cases, parts of the esophagus must be removed. The doctor might also pass a feeding tube directly into the stomach to bypass the esophagus to provide nutrition.
Chemotherapy and or radiation therapy are also treatment options.
This has been your Medical Minute.
More Info On the Web
Esophageal Cancer - Mayo Clinic
Cancer of the Esophagus - MedicineNet
Esophageal Cancer - MedlinePlus
Esophagus Cancer - Cancer.org
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