Diseases & Conditions
The care of patients with esophageal cancer is a collaborative, multidisciplinary process. Boston Medical Center specializes in the treatment of esophageal cancer, tumors that arise from malignant (abnormal) cells in the neck and chest area. The Center for Thoracic Oncology provides comprehensive, expert care for patients with cancer of the esophagus and other related diseases.
Generally between 10 and 13 inches long, the esophagus - a flexible tube connecting the throat to the stomach - contracts when one swallows, to push food down into the stomach. Mucus helps move the process along. Esophageal cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the esophagus. Ninety percent of esophageal cancers are one of two types, squamous cell (cancer that originates in the cells that line the esophagus) or adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in the part of the esophagus that joins the stomach.)
Some people do not notice any symptoms of esophageal cancer until late in the disease. However, symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness or a long-lasting cough
- Regurgitating blood
- Weight loss with an unknown cause
- Pain in the throat or back
The causes of esophageal cancer are not fully understood, but scientists have discovered several likely contributing factors, including:
- Advancing age. People over age 60 are more likely to develop the disease.
- Gender. Esophageal cancer is more common in men than women.
- Tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes, cigars or 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, such as being overweight or eating a diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
There are a number of ways that physicians may detect esophageal cancer, after doing a medical history and physical examination:
- Barium Swallow
- Computed Tomography (CT) Scan
- Esophageal Ultrasound
- Position Emission Tomography (PET) Scan
- Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT)
- Stress Test
If a patient has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, they have options. A physician will work with the patient and family to discuss the situation and all possible treatment options. Factors that will be taken into consideration in determining the best treatment plan are the size and location of the tumor, the involvement of surrounding tissue, whether it has spread to other body parts and the patient's overall health.
- Esophagectomy (Surgery)
- Endoscopic Mucosal Resection (EMR)
- Esophageal Stents
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)