When cells in the lining of the esophagus begin to grow abnormally (dysplasia), they can potentially lead to the development of esophageal cancer. Three to four times more common in men than women, this disease accounts for 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States.
Barrett’s esophagus, a complication of persistent gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a major risk factor for esophageal cancer. Obesity may also play a role in the progression from Barrett’s esophagus to cancer. Additionally, lifestyle behaviors such as smoking, alcohol abuse and eating foods preserved with nitrosamines (found in fish, meat and cheese products) may be contributing risk factors.
Patients in early stages of the disease often don’t experience many, if any, signs of esophageal cancer. As the cancer progresses, however, symptoms of esophageal cancer may include:
- difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- unexplained weight loss
- chest pain, pressure or burning
- worsening indigestion or heartburn
Esophageal Cancer Prevention
Important steps to reduce the risk of esophageal cancer include avoiding:
- smoking tobacco
- heavy use of alcohol
- contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV) infection: in recent years, it has been recognized as a contributing factor
It is recommended that patients under age 40, who have had longstanding GERD, undergo an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) screening.
Esophageal Cancer Screening and Diagnosis
Early detection remains the best strategy for diagnosing esophageal cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages. The symptoms of esophageal cancer are non-specific but do require prompt evaluation by a qualified specialist.
Your NorthShore gastroenterologist will ask about your medical history, especially in regards to GERD and Barrett’s esophagus, and conduct a physical exam to evaluate your signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer. Endoscopy may be recommended to visualize the esophagus and obtain a biopsy to accurately diagnose your condition. It is recommended that patients with Barrett’s esophagus undergo periodic endoscopic examinations to monitor for progressive pre-cancerous (dysplastic) cells or early esophageal cancer. Our advanced endoscopists are skilled in endoscopic techniques to ablate abnormal tissue or early esophageal cancer should these conditions be identified.
Esophageal Cancer Treatment
At NorthShore, we take a collaborative approach to treating esophageal cancer. Through the programs and services of the Kellogg Cancer Center, our multidisciplinary team of specialists meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized esophageal cancer treatment plan. Patients have as part of their Kellogg team, highly-skilled endoscopists who are board-certified gastroenterologists with special training using sophisticated technology to treat benign and malignant tumors in the GI and liver tract.
Esophageal cancer often can be successfully treated with minimally-invasive advanced endoscopic procedures and laparoscopic techniques when the early signs of esophageal cancer are detected. Other treatment options may include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
For More Information
For more information on treatment and symptoms of esophageal cancer, or to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.