Esophageal cancer is cancer of the muscular tube, called the esophagus, that food passes through on its way to the stomach. The two most common types of esophageal cancer are adenocarcinoma of the esophagus, which usually develops in the lower part of the esophagus, and squamous cell carcinoma, which occurs most often in the upper part of the esophagus. The disease is three to four times more common in men than it is in women.
Causes of Esophageal Cancer
There are multiple potential causes of esophageal cancer. Some, like an increased risk with old age, can't be controlled, but other risk factors can be managed. For example, heavy smoking and drinking are risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma. Being obese, having acid reflux and a disease called Barrett’s esophagus are all risk factors for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
Treatment options for esophageal cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy. The treatment or combination of treatments used will vary based on the cancer's type and stage. If surgery is required, a portion of the esophagus and stomach may be removed, and the surgeon would then reconnect the remaining organs in order for digestion to continue in a close-to-normal fashion.
Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy are treatments designed to kill cancer cells. For esophageal cancer, radiation therapy may be administered from outside the body or inside the body, via a tube placed in the esophagus. Targeted therapy is a medication that is injected into the bloodstream that can halt the growth and spread of cancer cells.
SOURCES: American Cancer Society; U.S. National Cancer Institute