Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus. The esophagus is the muscular tube that moves food and liquid from the throat to the stomach. Esophageal cancer starts at the inside lining of the esophagus and spreads outward through the other layers as it grows.
UVA Cancer Center has a multidisciplinary team dedicated to caring for patients with esophageal disease, from benign esophageal conditions through the most advanced stages of esophageal cancer. Many of the patients that come through our doors are referred by outside physicians for a second opinion because of our extensive knowledge of these diseases, approaches to treatment, advanced surgical procedures and the latest in minimally invasive and nonsurgical therapies.
The two most common forms of esophageal cancer are named for the type of cells that become cancerous:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in the thin, flat cells lining the esophagus. This cancer is most often found in the upper and middle part of the esophagus, but can occur anywhere along the esophagus. This is also called epidermoid carcinoma.
- Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells in the lining of the esophagus that produce and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinomas usually form in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach.
Risk Factors & Symptoms
Risk factors include the following:
- Heavy alcohol or tobacco use
- Barrett esophagus
- Older age
- Male gender
- African-American ethnicity
Symptoms of esophageal cancer may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Pain in the chest
- Hoarseness and cough
- Indigestion and/or heartburn
Diagnosis & Treatment
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and history
- Chest X-ray with or without barium contrast
Certain factors, such as the size of the tumor, the stage of the cancer and your general health will affect your treatment options and recovery. Recovery is better when esophageal cancer is found very early; however, it is often at an advanced stage when it is diagnosed. At later stages, esophageal cancer can be treated but rarely can be cured. You may want to consider participating in a clinical trial.
Surgery: The most common treatment. Part of the esophagus may be removed during an operation called an esophagectomy.
- Radiation therapy: Uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer or keep it from growing.
Chemotherapy: Uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing them or by stopping them from dividing.
Chemoradiation therapy: Combines chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Laser Therapy: Uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.
Electrocoagulation: Uses an electric current to kill cancer cells.