By Sandra Rose  | 

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The esophagus is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach. An esophageal tumor can appear anywhere along the lining inside the esophagus.

As the tumor grows into the esophageal muscle, it can spread to nearby organs, including the throat and stomach (metastasize). Esophageal cancer cells found in distant parts of the body are diagnosed as stage IV esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide. It is a rare type of cancer and makes up 1% of cancer deaths in the United States. Men are three times more likely than women to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer. The risk increases over age 45.

Causes

The cause of esophageal cancer is unknown. Risk factors include smoking, alcoholism, drinking very hot coffee or tea, obesity, acid reflux (GERD), esophagitis (irritation caused by acid), Barrett's esophagus, poor diet that lacks fruits and vegetables.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer

Early symptoms are usually non-existent or mild and may include dry throat, hoarse voice, frequently clearing your throat, and mild weight loss.

As the disease progresses, symptoms include throat pain and difficulty swallowing, food coming back up, choking on food, chest pain, unexplained weight loss, swollen neck glands, dry cough, coughing up blood or vomiting.

Other symptoms include:

  • Indigestion
  • Passing gas (flatulence)
  • Bloating abdomen
  • Belching
  • Heartburn
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic cough
  • Hiccups
  • Diagnosing esophageal cancer

    Tests for diagnosing esophageal cancer include endoscopy, barium swallow, biopsy, CT scan or PET scan.

    Treatment

    Chemotherapy or radiation therapy are standard treatments to shrink tumors. Doctors may also recommend surgery to remove tumors if the tumors are small and haven't spread from the original site.

    Prognosis

    The prognosis for esophageal cancer is good with early detection and prompt treatment.

    This has been your Medical Minute.
     
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