Oesophageal cancer is found in the oesophagus. There are several different types of oesophageal cancer, including squamous oesophageal cancer, and adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus. The first develops in the cells lining the upper oesophagus, while the latter develops in the area with the oesophagus meets the stomach. Oesophageal cancer tends to have a very low survival rate, with the cancer tending to metastasise and grow aggressively. Very large tumours tend not to be operable, and result in palliative approaches; however in some instances chemotherapy and radiation therapy can help reduce the tumour to a size that is small enough for it to be operable. Most patients tend do die within a year of the initial diagnosis, with less than twenty per cent of oesophageal cancer patients surviving the critical five year period.
The most common signs of oesophageal cancer are difficulty swallowing, or a painful feeling when swallowing, with difficulty swallowing being the first symptom to appear for most patients. Weight loss often occurs through a combination of both the cancer and the difficulties in eating experienced by the patient. In addition, many oesophageal cancer patients experience a burning sensation that is similar to heartburn. Over time, the tumour may result in the inability to keep food down, coughing, and difficulties with pneumonia. In some cases, the airway may become obstructed by the tumour.
However, oesophageal cancer is typically not diagnosed until the disease is fairly advanced, and the prognosis is therefore often quite poor. The reason for oesophageal cancer diagnosis tending to take place at a late stage is due to the fact that oesophageal cancer symptoms tend not to display until the cancer is large enough to affect the functioning of the oesophagus. Often by this point the oesophageal cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
Risk factors for oesophageal cancer include age, with most oesophageal cancer patients being over sixty; being male; having a family history of oesophageal cancer; smoking and alcohol consumption; damage to the oesophagus; obesity; and coeliac disease. However, oesophageal cancer risks can be decreased by eating a diet that contains many green and yellow vegetables and fruits, eating vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, and a moderate coffee intake.
Given the fact that oesophageal cancer is typically diagnosed in the later stage, many care efforts focus on palliative approaches rather than cure. Key approaches to treating oesophageal cancer include ensuring appropriate nutrition and maintaining dental hygiene, which can be compromised as the swallowing reflex becomes compromised. Other oesophageal cancer treatment options include surgery to remove the affected part of the oesophagus, and endoscopic therapy. Alternative cancer therapies may help improve an oesophageal cancer patient’s quality of life at this point. More information about alternative cancer therapies can be found elsewhere on the site.