Cancer of the esophagus is characterized by four stages. The first stage (Stage 0 Esophageal Cancer) occurs when the cancer just begins to develop in the squamous tissue of the esophagus. It is difficult to diagnose the disease at this stage because there are no obvious symptoms. The second stage (Stage 1 Esophageal Cancer) is said to occur when the disease begins to spread deeper into the tissues of the esophagus.
As the cancer progresses further and begins to spread to the lymph nodes, it is called Stage 2 Esophageal Cancer. Stage 3 Esophageal Cancer occurs when the tissue surrounding the lymph nodes start to succumb to the cancer. Finally when the cancer spreads to the other organs of the body, it is known as Stage 4 Esophageal Cancer.
If the disease is identified and treatment initiated during the Stages 0 and 1, the prognosis for recovery is quite good. Unfortunately, the symptoms mainly manifest themselves during Stage 3 esophageal cancer. By then, the mortality rate increases considerably, and only 20 to 30 percent of patients with stage 3 esophageal cancer are expected to have a life expectancy of three to five years. Thus, the prognosis for stage 3 esophageal cancer is poor.
The most common symptoms associated with stage 3 esophageal cancer are difficulty and pain while swallowing food. As a result, patients are unable to consume adequate quantities of food and experience rapid weight loss. Patients may also exhibit heartburn-like symptoms and may develop a hoarse voice. Vomiting of blood is also observed in some patients as the disease progresses.
By the time the disease has progressed to stage 3 of esophageal cancer, surgery no longer remains a viable option. In some cases, surgery may be used for palliative care. However, the main treatment modality remains a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Another technique that is being explored as a stage 3 esophageal cancer treatment is the use of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to shrink the cancerous cells so that they can successfully be removed through surgery. This technique is called Neoadjuvant therapy.
Ultimately, for virulent diseases such as esophageal cancer, prevention is better than cure. Although, there is no surefire method of ensuring that your body remains cancer free, you can significantly decrease your chances of contracting such diseases by maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding alcohol and tobacco consumption, and going in for regular check-ups.