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Esophageal Cancer

Cancer that begins in the esophagus is divided into two major types, squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas are present in squamous cells that line the esophagus. They usually occur in the upper and middle part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinomas usually develop in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus. Treatment is similar for both types.

The exact causes of esophageal cancer is not known, but the following risk factors can increase the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus. These risk factors are: age, sex, tobacco use, alcohol use, Barrett’s esophagus, and medical history. Early esophageal cancer usually does not cause symptoms. However, as the cancer grows, symptoms may include: difficult or painful swallowing, severe weight loss, pain in the throat or back, behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades, hoarseness or chronic cough, vomiting, and coughing up blood.

Testing is done to help find the cause of symptoms, and may include a barium swallow or an endoscopy. If an abnormal area is found during an endoscopy the doctor can collect cells and tissue in a procedure called a biopsy. The biopsy can show cancer, tissue changes that may lead to cancer, or other conditions. If the diagnosis is esophageal cancer the next step is to determine the stage of the disease to see if it has spread to any other parts of the body. Some tests used to determine this are, CT scan, bone scan, and bronchoscopy.

Treatment options depend on size, location, and extent of the tumor, and the general health of the patient. Patients are often treated by a team of specialists, which may include a gastroenterologist, surgeon, medical oncologist, and radiation oncologist. Treatment options available for esophageal cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, laser therapy, and photodynamic therapy. After diagnosis, a treatment plan that is best for you will be decided upon by you and your physician.

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