Esophageal Cancer: An Aggressive Cancer

Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the cells that line the inner esophagus. The esophagus is a muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach to be digested. This type of cancer can occur anywhere in the esophagus, but is most commonly found in the lower esophagus in people who develop it in the United States. Esophageal cancer in the United States is quite rare; it makes up about 1 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the U.S. It is more common in northern China, Iran, southern Africa, and India.


Key statistics for esophageal cancer:

·         It is estimated that for 2015 in the United States, there will be about 16,980 new esophageal cancer cases diagnosed and about 15,590 deaths from esophageal cancer.

·         Esophageal cancer is 3 to 4 times more common among men than among women.

·         The lifetime risk of esophageal cancer in the United States is about 1 in 125 in men and about 1 in 435 in women.

·         Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer of the esophagus among African Americans, while adenocarcinoma is more common in whites.

·         About 20% of patients survive at least 5 years after diagnosis.

·         Used to be more common in African Americans than Caucasians, but it is now about equally as common.

Esophageal cancer can be difficult to diagnose because there are no early signs or symptoms. It is more likely to be discovered in a more advanced stage. When people do experience signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer, they may include difficulty swallowing, unintentional weight loss, chest pain, pressure or burning, indigestion or heartburn that keeps getting worse, coughing or hoarseness.

Risk factors for esophageal cancer:

·         Age – the risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age. Less than 15 percent of cases are found in people younger than 55.

·         Gender – men are 3 times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer.

·         Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – when acid escape from the stomach into the lower part of the esophagus; causes heartburn and chest pain

·         Barrett's esophagus - having precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus

·         Alcohol and tobacco use – Using tobacco and alcohol together raises the risk of esophageal cancer much more than using either alone.

·         Obesity - Overweight or obese people have a higher risk of getting adenocarcinoma of the esophagus most likely due to the fact that obese people are more likely to have esophageal reflux.

·         Diet – low in fruits and vegetables, high in processed meat, drinking very hot liquids frequently (due to long-term damage from the hot liquid on the cells lining the esophagus), overeating

·         Achalasia - Having difficulty swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that won't relax

·         Having had radiation treatment on the chest or upper abdomen

·         Human papillomavirus (HPV) – signs of HPV have been found in 1/3 of esophageal cancers in Asia and South Africa. This is not the case in the United States.

·         History of other cancers such as lung cancer, mouth cancer, or throat cancer increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer.