Understanding Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer starts in your esophagus, which is the pathway that carries food and liquid from your throat to your stomach. It is a kind of gastrointestinal cancer.

There are two main types of esophageal cancer:

  • Adenocarcinomas. These cancers start in the glandular cells, normally in the lower part of the esophagus. In the United States and other Western countries, most esophageal cancers are adenocarcinomas.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers start in the squamous cells anywhere along the esophagus.

Esophageal cancer is considered rare; however, the number of people with adenocarcinoma — the main type of esophageal cancer — has risen dramatically in the past few decades.

Learn more about esophageal cancer causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.

Why Choose Us for Esophageal Cancer Treatment

Together with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, we are the state’s only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, meeting the highest standards in cancer research, treatment, prevention and education in the nation. We offer the most advanced treatment options, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and access to clinical trials, many of which are not available elsewhere.

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New Jersey’s Largest Network of Cancer Specialists

We offer access to New Jersey’s largest network of cancer specialists, including nationally and internationally recognized oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, advanced practice nurses and oncology support professionals with advanced credentials in cancer specialty care with expertise in gastrointestinal cancers.

Oncology Nurse Navigators Guide You

Nurse navigators help secure appointments, coordinate follow-up visits related to treatments and procedures, and guide you through aspects of survivorship.

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best gastrointestinal cancer specialists, call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.

Esophageal Cancer Causes

The exact cause of esophageal cancer is still unknown. Researchers do know, however, that genes play an important role in the acquisition and spreading of the disease.

Gene mutations can cause cells to grow out of control and form a tumor. Esophageal cancer cells often show mutations in many genes. It is not clear, however, if there are specific gene changes that can be found in all or even most esophageal cancers.

Risk factors are anything that increases your chances of getting a disease. Important risk factors for esophageal cancer include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This occurs when stomach acid escapes from the stomach and travels into the lower esophagus. People with GERD tend to have a slightly higher risk of getting adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Barrett’s esophagus. This occurs when prolonged reflux damages the lining of the esophagus. People with Barrett’s esophagus are at a much higher risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus than patients without the condition.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Most patients who are diagnosed have esophageal cancer symptoms. It is rare for patients without symptoms to be diagnosed. Usually, esophageal cancer does not cause symptoms until it has reached an advanced stage, which can make it harder to treat.

The most common esophageal cancer symptoms are:

  • Trouble swallowing. This occurs when there is a lump or tumor in the wall of the esophagus. As the tumor grows, it shrinks the opening of the esophagus, making the symptom worse.
  • Chest pain. Some patients may have pain, discomfort, pressure, or burning in the middle part of their chest, which can make it increasingly difficult to swallow.
  • Weight loss. Trouble swallowing may make it difficult for patients to eat enough to maintain their normal weight.

Other signs of esophageal cancer may include:

  • Hoarseness
  • Chronic cough
  • Vomiting
  • Black stool
  • Fatigue due to developed anemia
  • Bone pain (if cancer has spread to the bone)

Signs and symptoms may be caused by conditions other than cancer. It is still important to have signs and symptoms checked by a physician to find and treat the cause.

The key symptom to be aware of is trouble swallowing. Other symptoms may make this symptom worse.

Diagnosing Esophageal Cancer

Signs and symptoms are usually the first indicators of esophageal cancer. When cancer is suspected, diagnostic measures may be taken, including:

  • A medical history and physical examination. Your physician asks important questions about your medical history to analyze your risk factors and examines you for signs of esophageal cancer.
  • Barium swallow test. In this test, you swallow barium, which is a thick, chalky liquid, and have x-rays taken. The barium coats the walls of the esophagus which helps your physician see any abnormal areas on x-ray.
  • Endoscopy. An endoscope is a flexible, narrow tube with a tiny video camera and light. It is used to look inside the body to diagnose esophageal cancer and/or determine if it has spread.
  • Biopsy. Your physician removes a piece of esophageal tissue through a scope and sends it to the laboratory for cancer analysis.

Esophageal Cancer Treatment

Esophageal cancer treatment depends on the stage of the disease. It may involve:

  • Surgery. Performed to remove small tumors and cancerous parts of the esophagus and upper stomach.
  • Chemotherapy. An intravenously administered drug that kills cancer cells. It may be used before surgery to shrink the size of the tumor or after surgery to kill remaining cancer cells. In some cases, it may be used to treat the symptoms of advanced esophageal cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.
  • Radiation therapy. High energy beams are used to kill cancer cells. It is often combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Targeted drug therapy. Drugs target changes in cells that cause cancer. They sometimes work when chemotherapy does not and they may cause different side effects.
  • Immunotherapy. Medicines help the body's immune system find and fight cancer.

Our Oncology Nurse Navigators Will Guide You Through Your Esophageal Cancer Journey

Our oncology nurse navigators help patients through the entire esophageal cancer journey, from securing initial appointments to coordinating follow-up visits related to treatments and procedures, all the way through aspects of survivorship. Oncology nurse navigators also can refer you to social workers or financial counselors for matters about health insurance, financial and other challenges.

To schedule an appointment with one of New Jersey’s best gastrointestinal cancer specialists, call 844-CANCERNJ or 844-226-2376.




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