Making up about 1% of cancer cases in the U.S., esophageal cancer is one of the rarest types. It begins in the esophagus—a long, muscular tube connecting your mouth to your stomach—and can develop in any part of the esophagus but is most common in the lower part. Esophageal cancer can be either squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma, depending on the type of cells affected.
What are the risk factors and symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Risk factors of esophageal cancer include:
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- History of bulimia or other eating disorders
- Poor nutrition
- Tobacco and alcohol use
- Frequently drinking very hot liquids
- Drinking excessive alcohol
Esophageal cancer symptoms include:
- Pain or difficulty swallowing
- Chronic cough or hoarseness
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Pain or pressure in the chest or behind the breastbone
- Unintended weight loss
- Vomiting or hiccups
What are ways to screen for esophageal cancer?
While examining your symptoms and medical and family history, your doctor can get a better look at your condition through one of these diagnostic tests:
- Barium swallow: Requires someone to drink a liquid with barium—a silvery metal—in it, which is easier to detect in an X-ray.
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD): Uses a thin, flexible tube to view the inside of your esophagus.
How do you treat esophageal cancer?
Treatment plans will vary based on your general health and the stage of the cancer at diagnosis.
- Radiation therapy
Our multidisciplinary team at St. Joseph Health—consisting of oncologists, primary care providers, radiologists, and other specialists—works with patients to recommend what treatment options are best for each case and each person. Talk to your primary care provider or nurse navigator for more information.