Health Comes First
What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer happens when normal cells in the esophagus change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The esophagus is the tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach.
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Early on, people might not notice any symptoms. They might find out they have esophageal cancer after a test for another condition.
When people have symptoms from esophageal cancer, they might have:
●Trouble swallowing, especially solid, dry foods – This gets worse over time.
●Pain or a burning feeling in the chest
●A hoarse voice
All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not cancer. But if you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse.
Is there a test for esophageal cancer?
Yes. If your doctor suspects you have esophageal cancer, he or she will do 1 or more of the following tests:
●Upper endoscopy – This is a procedure in which your doctor puts a thin tube with a camera and light on the end (called an endoscope) into your mouth and down into your esophagus. He or she will look at the lining of your esophagus.
●Barium swallow – Your doctor will give you a drink called "barium." Then he or she will take X-rays as the barium moves down your esophagus.
●Biopsy – For this test, your doctor will take a small sample of tissue from your esophagus. Another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer. Your doctor will probably do a biopsy during an upper endoscopy. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have esophageal cancer.
What is cancer staging?
Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out if a cancer has a spread past the layer of tissue where it began, and, if so, how far.
The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your cancer and your other medical problems.
How is esophageal cancer treated?
Most people with esophageal cancer have 1 or more of the following treatments:
●Surgery – Esophageal cancer can be treated with surgery to remove the cancer. If your doctor needs to remove part of your esophagus during surgery, he or she will reconnect your esophagus and stomach so that you can swallow food.
●Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
●Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the medical term for medicines that kill cancer cells or stop them from growing.
●Immunotherapy – This is the term doctors use for medicines that work with the body's infection-fighting system (the "immune system") to stop cancer growth.
Esophageal cancer can sometimes be cured with treatment. This is most likely when the cancer is found at an early stage. If your cancer cannot be cured, your doctor might do other treatments to help improve your symptoms. These can include:
●Using a laser beam or electric current to kill the cancer cells
●Doing a procedure to widen or "prop open" the blocked part of your esophagus
What happens after treatment?
After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Regular follow-up tests usually include exams, blood tests, and imaging tests. Some people also have follow-up upper endoscopy.
You should also watch for the symptoms listed above. Having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.
What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads?
If the cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more radiation therapy or chemotherapy. You might also have other treatments to help improve your symptoms.
What else should I do?
It is important to follow all your doctor's instructions about visits and tests. It's also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.
Getting treated for esophageal cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have.
Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:
●What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
●What are the downsides to this treatment?
●Are there other options besides this treatment?
●What happens if I do not have this treatment?
What is Barrett's esophagus?
Barrett's esophagus is a condition that affects the esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). When people have Barrett's esophagus, the normal cells in the lower part of their esophagus are replaced by a different type of cell.
Barrett's esophagus is usually caused by acid reflux. Acid reflux is when the acid that is normally in your stomach backs up into the esophagus. Many people with acid reflux never get Barrett's esophagus, but some do.
If you have had acid reflux for a long time, it's important to know if you also have Barrett's esophagus. That's because Barrett's esophagus can later turn into pre-cancer or cancer of the esophagus.
What are the symptoms of Barrett's esophagus?
Barrett's esophagus does not cause any symptoms. But people usually have symptoms from their acid reflux, such as:
●Burning in the chest, known as heartburn
●Burning in the throat or an acid taste in the throat
●Vomiting after eating
Is there a test for Barrett's esophagus?
Yes. Your doctor can do a test called an upper endoscopy to check for Barrett's esophagus. Your doctor might do this if you have had acid reflux for more than 5 years.
During an upper endoscopy, a doctor puts a thin tube with a camera and light on the end into your mouth and down into your esophagus. He or she will look at the lining of the esophagus and take a small sample of it. Another doctor will look at the cells under a microscope to see if you have Barrett's esophagus.
How is Barrett's esophagus treated?
Barrett's esophagus is treated by reducing or getting rid of a person's acid reflux. Treatment does not usually cure Barrett's esophagus, but it keeps it from getting worse.
Your doctor will likely give you medicines to stop your stomach from making acid. He or she might also recommend that you:
●Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, and fatty foods. These foods can make acid reflux worse.
●Avoid eating before going to bed, eating large meals, or lying down after eating
●Raise the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches (for example, by putting wood blocks under 2 legs of the bed)
Should I follow up with my doctor?
Yes. If you have Barrett's esophagus, you should follow up with your doctor. He or she will keep checking that your Barrett's esophagus does not turn into pre-cancer or cancer.
What if my Barrett's esophagus turns into pre-cancer or cancer?
If this happens, your doctor will talk with you about different ways to treat it.