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Center for Thoracic Oncology

Diseases & Conditions

Esophageal Cancer

Boston Medical Center specializes in the treatment of many thoracic cancers, which are tumors that arise from malignant (abnormal) cells in the neck and chest area. We are here to help minimize your pain, treat you in the most effective way possible, and help you start on the path to recovery. Our staff of dedicated nurses, oncologists, and surgeons is here for you and your family in any way we can be. Please let us know if you have questions or concerns.

What is Esophageal Cancer?

Esophageal cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the esophagus, which is a flexible tube connecting the throat to the stomach. Generally between 10 and 13 inches long, the esophagus contracts when you swallow, to push food down into the stomach. Mucus helps move this process along.   

Ninety percent of esophageal cancers are one of two types: squamous cell or adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell refers to cancers that originate in the cells that line the esophagus; adenocarcinoma begins in the part of the esophagus that joins the stomach.  
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer? 

Some people do not notice any symptoms of esophageal cancer until late in the disease. However, symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness or long-lasting cough
  • Regurgitating blood
  • Weight loss with unknown cause
  • Pain in the throat or back
  • Vomiting

What Are the Causes?

The causes of esophageal cancer are not fully understood, but scientists have discovered several likely contributing factors. These include:

  •  Advancing age. People over age 60 are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Gender. This cancer is more common in men than women.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes, cigars, pipes, or using snuff or chewing tobacco greatly increases risk. For those who both smoke and drink, the risk is highest.
  • Acid reflux. When stomach acids flow back into the esophagus, irritation occurs. Over time, this irritation can lead to problems, including a condition called Barrett's esophagus, where cell changes often lead to cancer.
  • Previous history of head or neck cancers.
  • An unhealthy lifestyle, which means being overweight or eating a diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

How is esophageal cancer diagnosed? 
Learn how esophageal cancer may be treated

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