What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer is cancer that develops in the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The esophagus, located just behind the trachea, is about 10 to 13 inches in length and allows food to enter the stomach for digestion. The wall of the esophagus is made up of several layers and cancers generally start from the inner layer and grow out.
The American Cancer Society estimates that 16,470 Americans will be newly diagnosed with esophageal cancer during 2009, and 14,530 deaths are expected.
What causes esophageal cancer?
No one knows exactly what causes esophageal cancer. At the top of the esophagus is a muscle, called the sphincter, that releases to let food or liquid go through. The lower part of the esophagus is connected to the stomach. Another muscle is located at this connection that opens to allow the food to enter the stomach. This muscle also works to keep food and juices from the stomach from backing into the esophagus. When these juices do back up, reflux, commonly known as heartburn, occurs.
Long-term reflux can change the cells in the lower end of the esophagus. This condition is known as Barrett’s esophagus. If these cells are not treated, they are at much higher risk of developing into cancer cells.
Treatment for esophageal cancer:
Specific treatment for esophageal cancer will be determined by your physician based on:
- your age, overall health, and medical history
- extent of the condition
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the condition
- your opinion or preference