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The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth and stomach. When you eat or drink, food and liquid go down the esophagus.
Esophageal cancer is when cancer cells form in the tissues of the esophagus. The 2 most common forms of esophageal cancer are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Personalized medicine and cancer
Vanderbilt is creating and using advanced therapies for certain types of cancer that target cancer cells without harming healthy ones. Learn more on our Healthcare Breakthroughs page.
These tests can help diagnose this condition:
Esophageal cancer may cause some of these symptoms, but other conditions may cause the same symptoms. See a doctor if you have any of these problems:
- Painful or difficult swallowing
- Weight loss
- Pain behind the breastbone
- Hoarseness and cough
- Indigestion and heartburn
There are 5 standard kinds of treatment:
Surgery: An operation called an esophagectomy can remove the cancerous part of the esophagus. The surgeon may also take out lymph nodes near the esophagus to see if they contain cancer. If a tumor is blocking the esophagus, a doctor may place an expanding metal tube called a stent to keep the esophagus open.
Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses X-rays or other kinds of radiation to kill cancer cells or slow their growth.
There are 2 kinds of radiation therapy. The type of treatment used depends on the type and stage of the cancer.
- External radiation therapy: A machine beams radiation into the body, targeting the cancer.
- Internal radiation therapy: Needles, seeds, wires, or catheters containing a radioactive compound are put into or near the cancer.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is a treatment using drugs that either kill cancer cells or slow their growth. There are several types of chemotherapy available, depending on the type and stage of the cancer.
Electrocoagulation uses an electric current to kill cancer cells.
Laser therapy uses a focused beam of intense light to kill cancer cells.
A successful recovery depends on:
- Cancer’s stage
- Whether it affects part of the esophagus, involves the whole esophagus or has spread to other places in the body
- Tumor’s size
- Patient’s general health
When esophageal cancer is diagnosed early, there is a better chance of a cure, but many times the cancer is detected in an advanced stage. In these cases, it can be treated but rarely cured.
If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, talk to your doctor about joining a clinical trial to help improve treatment.
- Tobacco use
- Heavy alcohol use
- Older age
- Being male
- Being African-American