Esophageal cancer touches the muscular tube (2 cm to 3 cm in diameter and 25 cm to 30 cm in length) connecting the larynx (throat) to the stomach. Once swallowed, the food enters the esophagus and descends to the stomach, driven by gravity and pushed by the contraction of the muscles of its wall. The entrance and exit of the esophagus are closed by muscular rings that open and close to manage the passage of the food. It’s the esophageal sphincters. If the sphincter located at the entrance to the stomach does not work well, gastro-esophageal reflux may occur. As the liquid in the esophagus is acidic, it irritates its wall. This chronic irritation of the esophagus is a very well known factor in case of the esophagus, although there are other risk factors.
Esophageal cancer is a malignant tumor in the tissues of the esophagus wall. We can distinguish two main types.
-Squamous carcinoma concerns cells lining the inner wall of the esophagus (squamous cells). It usually reaches the upper part of the esophagus.
– Adenocarcinoma occurs more often in the lower part of the esophagus. It concerns glandular cells that produce and secrete mucus and other liquids that contribute to digestion.
Esophageal cancer is one of the most common cancers in Canada: it accounts for less than 1% of all cancer cases. But, it can be serious because it is quite often diagnosed at an advanced stage. The early screening measures for people at risk can make a big difference. According to the League Against Cancer, esophageal cancer would affect about 5000 French every year.
Symptoms of esophageal cancer
At the onset of the disease, esophageal cancer rarely causes specific and obvious symptoms. It is therefore not easy to diagnose the disease at an early stage. However, esophageal cancer may trigger the following symptoms:
- Painful swallowing, difficulty swallowing solid foods, feeling that food remains stuck to the sternum.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Chest pain.
- Recurring Heartburn.
- Persistent hoarseness of the voice (more than 2 weeks),
- Chronic cough.
- Nausea, vomiting.
- Vomiting of blood.
- Lung Infection,
Difficulty breathing (if the tumor is pressing on the trachea)
These symptoms do not necessarily indicate the presence of a cancerous tumor. They may be signs of other more common problems. If such symptoms occur, it is important to consult a doctor to make the appropriate examinations and determine the cause.
The diagnosis is made by esophageal fibroscopy, passage of a flexible tube into the esophagus and allowing small samples of tissues in the case of a seemingly abnormal area.