About 17,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year – more than 13,000 are men. It affects the esophagus – a long tube that sends food and liquids from your throat to your stomach. Esophageal cancer can make it difficult to eat and affect your quality of life. WVU Cancer Institute thoracic surgeon Ghulam Abbas, MD, is an expert at treating esophageal cancer and tells you how to reduce your risk of the disease.
Age, gender, race, and weight are risk factors.
The most common type of esophageal cancer is called adenocarcinoma. It begins in the lower part of the esophagus and cells of the mucus-secreting glands. Prolonged irritation of the esophagus may contribute to adenocarcinoma, which affects primarily older, white men. Your risk increases if you’re overweight, have frequent indigestion, use tobacco, drink alcohol, or have a diet that’s high in processed meats. Having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or Barrett's esophagus, a complication of reflux, are the greatest risk factors of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Manage GERD and Barrett’s esophagus properly.
GERD causes a burning sensation in the throat, difficulty swallowing, or regurgitation. GERD damages the esophageal lining leading to Barrett's esophagus, which occurs when the normal cells that line your esophagus turn into abnormal cells. See your provider regularly to monitor these pre-cancerous conditions.
If you’re having trouble swallowing, talk with your provider.
In the early stages, esophageal cancer doesn’t usually cause symptoms. If you experience the following, see your provider.
- Trouble swallowing dry solid foods or liquids
- Pressure or burning in your chest after swallowing
- A feeling that food is stuck in your throat
Many of these symptoms can be caused by other health problems. But it’s important to talk with your provider so that they can rule out esophageal cancer or make a diagnosis.
Diagnosis methods include chest x-rays and blood tests.
Tests to diagnose esophageal cancer may include: Barium swallow (a metallic compound that shows up on x-rays and helps identify abnormalities in the esophagus), blood tests, chest x-rays, endoscopic ultrasound, or esophagoscopy, where a flexible tube is inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus so that your provider can view it with a magnified lens.
WVU Medicine offers the most advanced treatment.
If cancer cells are found in your esophagus, you will be referred to one of our experts for further evaluation. Our highly-skilled team of surgeons and oncologists has vast knowledge of the type of tumor you might be facing and will develop a treatment plan that works best for you. We offer the most progressive treatments available, including radiation and chemotherapy to esophagectomy with minimally invasive and robotic surgery options. You may also be able to take part in clinical trials, which will give you access to new therapies for esophageal cancer.