Introduction to Oesophageal Cancer
Oesophageal cancer is a serious and rare cancer that arises in the gullet. It doesn’t cause any symptoms when small and is only noticeable when it is large enough to cause difficulty swallowing.
What is Oesophageal Cancer?
Oesophageal cancer is a serious and rare cancer that arises in the gullet. It doesn’t cause any symptoms when small and is only noticeable when it is large enough to cause difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), which can lead to weight loss. There are two types of oesophageal cancer called squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is found in the upper region of the oesophagus whereas adenocarcinoma is found in the lower region and arises from the cells responsible for secreting mucous. Oesophageal cancer mainly affects those over the age of 60 and is more common in men. It is far more common in those who smoke and drink excess alcohol – the two biggest risk factors.
What are the causes for Oesophageal Cancer?
Oesophageal cancer arises when there is a mutation in the DNA of the oesophageal cells, which causes abnormal and unregulated growth of cells, into a tumour. There is no known exact cause but there are recognised risk factors which can significantly increase the chance of developing it. The two biggest risk factors are smoking and excess alcohol consumption. Chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause a condition known as Barrett oesophagus, which is where the cell type of the lower esophageal lining changes to one that is more likely to turn malignant, into oesophageal cancer. Obesity, poor diet, chemical and pollution exposure can also increase the chance of developing oesophageal cancer.
What are the symptoms of Oesophageal Cancer?
The main symptoms that are present include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) and weight loss. The dysphagia can progress from initially involving solids, to eventually involving difficulty swallowing liquids. It is important to see a Doctor as soon as possible when you experience any changes in swallowing ability and/or weight. There may be changes in the voice (hoarse) and a persistent cough may be present which may produce blood. Other symptoms include persistent indigestion, vomiting and pain inbetween the shoulder blades.
How is Oesophageal Cancer treated?
The treatment plan will be carefully coordinated within a multidisciplinary team (MDT) and will depend on your health, age, staging of the cancer and personal choice. The MDT team will involve many specialties who will be involved in your care. There are many different approaches, from surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. If the cancer is staged 1-3, surgery is possible to removed the affected part of the oesophagus and this treatment plan usually also involves chemotherapy and radiotherapy before. If the cancer is stage 4, this means that surgery may not be possible as the cancer has spread too far – in this case chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used to manage the cancer and slow the spread. Management of symptoms such as dysphagia may involve a tube that is placed into the stomach, to prevent malnutrition and dehydration. Your Doctor will ensure you are fully informed and aware of your treatment plan and will be available throughout your treatment for any concerns you may have.