Esophageal cancer affects the esophagus, the tube that carries foods and beverages from your mouth to your stomach. It is a relatively rare type of cancer, yet more people die from it yearly than from more common cancers like cervical cancer or melanoma/skin cancer. Consequently, it is crucial to obtain proper treatment and care as soon as it is detected.
When esophageal cancer is in its very early stages, you will likely experience no symptoms. Unfortunately, this means that many people with this type of cancer do not get diagnosed until the disease has reached a later stage. Here we discuss some of the warning signs of esophageal cancer so that you can seek medical intervention and begin treatment as early as possible.
Difficulty swallowing, also called dysphagia, can indicate a serious problem if it occurs frequently and if you find both liquids and solids hard to swallow. It may feel like the food is stuck in your throat or chest, and you may be afraid you will choke. You may also experience pain when swallowing.
Dysphagia can be caused by several issues, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), an esophageal spasm, or simply eating too fast. However, it can also be a sign of esophageal cancer. If you are experiencing difficulty swallowing, make an appointment with your primary care physician for an examination and explain your symptoms. If warranted, your physician may consult a medical oncologist and make a referral to a cancer care center for further evaluation.
Other Esophageal Problems
Esophageal cancer is more likely to develop in cells that are frequently irritated, which can happen from things like acid reflux problems, such as GERD, and from smoking or drinking alcohol. People with acid reflux can also develop a condition that affects the cells of the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus, in which the cells are precancerous. If you already have esophageal problems, it is vital to monitor the health of your esophagus.
Unexplained Weight Loss
Sometimes you can lose weight even though you have not changed your diet. Unexplained weight loss is often a symptom that something is wrong, especially if other symptoms, such as unusual levels of fatigue, accompany the weight loss. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, see your doctor. There can be several reasons for weight loss, but it is also another sign of esophageal cancer.
Coughing or Hoarseness
A tumor near the top of the esophagus caused by esophageal cancer may not only make it difficult to swallow but can also block part of your airway (trachea), which may make you feel like you have to clear your throat or may cause you to cough. The tumor can also give you a hoarse voice if cancerous tissues are pressing on your vocal cords.
Chest Pain, Pressure, or a Burning Sensation
Chest pain, pressure, or burning is often caused by heartburn. While heartburn is a common and relatively harmless condition, it can signify more serious problems with your esophagus, including esophageal cancer. If you have what you think is persistent heartburn, do not try to cover the problem by resorting to taking over-the-counter antacids. It is vital to see a doctor to determine the exact cause of your discomfort so that you can rule out more serious issues.
Unfortunately, because esophageal cancer is often only caught in the late stages of the disease, the five-year survival rate is currently about 20%. However, treatments are continually being researched and developed. If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the oncologists at Beacon Cancer Care will work with you to create an integrated approach to treatment and care based on the stage of your disease. If available, we will also see if any new or innovative treatments may be available to you through a clinical trial.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of esophageal cancer, remember that it is critical to obtain intervention and treatment as early as possible. The likelihood of success for any treatment is considerably improved the earlier the cancer is caught. If you receive a cancer diagnosis, contact us at Beacon Cancer Care right away. Our team of specialists will work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan to see you through your cancer journey.