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Esophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the esophagus, a tube-like structure that runs from your throat to your stomach. Food goes from the mouth to the stomach through the esophagus. The cancer starts at the inner layer of the esophagus and can spread throughout the other layers of the esophagus and to other parts of the body (metastasis).
There are two main types of esophageal cancer. One typeis squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cells line the inner esophagus, and cancer developing from squamous cells can occur along the entire esophagus. The other type is called adenocarcinoma. This is cancer that develops from gland cells. To develop adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, squamous cells that normally line the esophagus are replaced by gland cells. This typically occurs in the lower esophagus near the stomach and is believed to be largely related to acid exposure to the lower esophagus.
It’s not exactly clear what causes esophageal cancer.
Esophageal cancer occurs when cells in your esophagus develop errors (mutations) in their DNA. The errors make cells grow and divide out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells form a tumour in the esophagus that can grow to invade nearby structures and spread to other parts of the body.
Early on there may be no symptoms. In more advanced cancers, symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
To diagnose esophageal cancer, your doctor will review your symptoms, medical history, and examine you. In addition, he or she may order certain blood tests and X-rays.
Tests for esophageal cancer may include:
Other tests, including computed tomography (CT) scans, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, thoracoscopy, and laparoscopy, may be performed to determine if the cancer has spread, or metastasized, outside of the esophagus. This process is called “staging.” The doctor needs this information in order to plan your treatment.
The stages of esophageal cancer are given a number (I through IV); the higher the number, the more advanced the cancer. The stages are:
Surgery - Part or all of the esophagus may be removed.
Chemotherapy refers to anticancer drugs used to shrink/kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body.
Targeted therapies are drugs or other substances that block the growth and spread of cancer by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumour growth and spread.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cancercells only in the treated area.
Helps the immune system to attack cancer cells.
You can take steps to reduce your risk of esophageal cancer. For instance:
CanHOPE is a non-profit cancer counselling and support service provided by Parkway Cancer Centre, Singapore. CanHOPE consists of an experienced, knowledgeable and caring support team with access to comprehensive information on a wide range of topics in education and guidelines in cancer treatment.
The CanHOPE team will journey with patients to provide support and personalised care, as they strive to share a little hope with every person encountered.