April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month

April is Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month. Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer death around the world. There are two main types of esophageal cancer: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. They are classified based on which cells are cancerous. Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells of the glands that secrete mucus in the esophagus. It is typically found in the lower part of the esophagus and is the most common form of esophageal cancer in the United States. Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the squamous cells, which are flat, thin cells that line the esophagus. It typically occurs in the top and middle part of the esophagus and is the most prevalent form of esophageal cancer in the rest of the world. There are other rare forms of esophageal cancer including small cell carcinoma, sarcoma, lymphoma, melanoma, and choriocarcinoma.

People with esophageal cancer struggle with symptoms including difficulty swallowing, weight loss, chest pain, pressure and burning, worsening heartburn, and coughing and hoarseness. People with the cancer can also struggle with obstruction of the esophagus, making it hard for food and liquid to travel through it. As the cancer advances, people can also struggle with pain as well as esophageal bleeding. The bleeding can be gradual, but it can also be sudden and severe. If people are struggling with any of these symptoms, especially for an extended period of time, it is recommended that they see a doctor.

Different causes of chronic irritation to the esophagus are the main cause of esophageal cancer. Different irritations including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), smoking, precancerous changes in esophageal cells, obesity, alcohol consumption, bite reflux, difficulty swallowing, drinking hot liquids constantly, not consuming fruits and vegetables, radiation treatments, and exposure to asbestos can all be causes of esophageal cancer. There are ways that people can try to avoid esophageal cancer. People can quit smoking if they are a smoker, drink alcohol in moderation or even not drink alcohol at all, eat more fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight, and avoid carcinogens like asbestos.

There are different treatments available for esophageal cancer. Stage 0 cancer, which is usually a tumor with abnormal cells called high-grade dysplasia, is a pre-cancerous condition that is treated with endoscopic treatments like photodynamic therapy, radiofrequency ablation, or endoscopal mucosal resection. When people have stage I cancer, more specifically T1 cancers where the cancer is in the small area of the mucosa and hasn’t moved to the submucosa, treatment can be as simple as EMR followed by ablation or ablation alone to remove abnormal areas in the lining. Most T1 cancer patients usually have surgery in the form of an esophagectomy to remove the part of the esophagus that contains the cancer which is then followed by chemotherapy and radiation. T2 cancers (cancer that invades muscularis propia) are usually treated with chemoradiation before surgery but patients can also just have surgery. If the cancer is in the upper part of the esophagus, chemoradiation could be recommended instead of surgery. People who are too sick could be treated with EMR and endoscopic ablation, chemotherapy, radiation, or chemo and radiation together.

Stages II (cancer grown into main muscle layer or connective tissue outside esophagus and one or two lymph nodes) and III (cancer that has grown through the outer wall or grown to nearby organs or tissue) are usually treated with chemotherapy and radiation before surgery. Adenocarcinoma sufferers that have it where the stomach meets the esophagus can sometimes be treated with chemotherapy and surgery. Surgery alone is also an option or chemoradiation can be the sole treatment for some cases of esophageal cancer. People with stage IV cancer have a harder time with treatment. If the cancer gets as far as stage IV, it can be hard to completely remove the cancer surgically, so it is not recommended. Patients at this point can be given chemotherapy to improve the patient’s quality of life and lengthen their life. Radiation therapy can also be given to help the patients deal with pain and help with swallowing. Patients can also undergo immunotherapy treatments.

If you or a loved one was diagnosed with esophageal cancer after exposure to asbestos, you could be entitled to compensation. Asbestos causes different hard to treat cancers including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer. Contact us today by calling 412-471-3980 or by filling out our contact form and one of our staff members will get back to as soon as possible.

“Esophageal Cancer” Mayo Clinic (October 13, 2020). [Link]
“Treating Esophageal Cancer by Stage” American Cancer Society (Last Reviewed March 23, 2021). [Link]

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