About Esophageal Cancer
The esophagus helps move food that is swallowed from the back of the throat to the stomach to be digested. In adults, the esophagus is usually between 10 and 13 inches long and cancer can occur in any cells along the esophagus. Cancer of the esophagus typically starts in the inner layer (the mucosa) of the esophagus wall and grows outward through the other layers. As tumors progress, they can affect the deep tissues and muscles of the esophagus.
Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide and is best managed by gastrointestinal cancer specialists with a focus on these tumors.
Types of Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer is classified according to the type of cells that are involved.
Types of esophageal cancer include:
- Adenocarcinomas, which begin in the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the esophagus and occur most often in the lower portion of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of esophageal cancer in the United States, affecting primarily white men.
- Squamous cell carcinomas, which are flat, thin cells that line the surface of the esophagus and occur most often in the upper and middle portions of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent esophageal cancer worldwide.
- Other rare types, which include choriocarcinoma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma, and small cell carcinoma.
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
Early esophageal cancer can often cause no signs or symptoms.
Symptoms of esophageal cancer may include:
- Chest pain, pressure, or burning
- Coughing or hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Worsening indigestion or heartburn
Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer
Certain people are at higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Risk factors for esophageal cancer may include:
- Health history: A history of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus), bile reflux, and difficulty swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that won’t relax (achalasia) are linked to esophageal cancer, as is radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen.
- Personal history: Esophageal cancer is associated with a steady habit of drinking very hot liquids, a diet lacking in fruits and vegetables, alcohol consumption, smoking, and obesity
Treating Esophageal Cancer at UT Health Austin
Treatment requires accurate diagnosis and a care plan tailored to the specific type of tumor, the tumor’s location, and the overall needs of the patient. The different behavior of different tumor types helps drive decisions about treatment, which may include combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Care Team Approach
At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncofertility specialists, onco-psychiatrists, genetic counselors, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more as well as other members of the CaLM Care Team who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you.
We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.