Tests, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment For Esophageal Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

As its name suggests, esophageal cancer is the cancer that occurs in the esophagus. This is a part of the alimentary canal that connects the throat to your stomach. This cancer usually begins from the cells that line the membranes of the esophagus. This cancer prevents you from ingesting food properly, thus denying you proper nutrition. Although research has not been able to find any relationship between ethnicity and esophageal cancer, this kind of cancer is seen more in people of Asian and African descent. Men are more prone to developing this kind of cancer than women.

For most people, the cancer occurs in the lower part of the esophagus, closer to the stomach and the main digestive system organs. The cancer develops slowly and may take years to finally become severe enough to cause cancerous damage. Esophageal cancer usually does not show any specific symptoms till it is in the later stages. Several different types of cells are involved in esophageal cancer, and based on which cell it is, esophageal cancer is classified into different types. Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are both the most common forms of esophageal cancer. There are other rare types of esophageal cancers such as lymphoma, sarcoma, choriocarcinoma, and melanoma. Rarer still, is the small cell cancer.

Tests Recommended

There are several different esophageal cancer tests that can be used to diagnose the spread of cancer in the esophagus. Cancer tests include both imaging and blood tests. A blood test is usually performed as a preliminary screening test to check for different cancer markers. After the initial test comes positive or shows an indication of possible cancer, further testing may be required. A barium swallow test is usually performed to get a detailed imaging of the internal organs, especially the esophagus. Your doctor may also choose to examine your esophagus using a scope based instrument. Other tests include computed tomography (CAT or CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. All of these scans are performed using sophisticated machinery in a clinical setting.

The doctor may also choose to perform a biopsy of the esophagus, during an upper endoscopy. The tissue sample obtained from the esophagus is studied to look for any indications of cancer or other damage. An endoscopic ultrasound may also offer you a detailed imagery of the upper GI tract so that the doctor can identify the exact problem. The doctor may also choose to perform a bronchoscopy or a thoracoscopy and a laparoscopy, both of which are methods for checking out the esophagus physically. Sometimes, an X-ray of the esophagus may be sufficient to show signs of cancer, and at other times, further detailed testing may be required.


Despite several years of rigorous research, medical scientists have not been able to find specific esophageal cancer causes. It is still not very clear why this cancer is caused in the first place. The cancer usually occurs if mutations develop in the DNA of the affected person. These DNA mutations may eventually cause the cells to grow abnormally, leading to abnormality in cellular structures. As the abnormal cells grow, they form into clumps and tumors. If not treated in time, these abnormal cellular growths may begin to invade other organs and spread to other parts of the body as well. Some of the other causes of esophageal cancer include alcohol use, regular smoking, and poor nutrition. The male gender is more prone to develop esophageal cancer than the female gender. Some studies indicate that obesity could be a possible risk factor of cancer.


Esophageal cancer symptoms are usually very apparent when the disease moves into its intermediate stages. One of the first symptoms of the condition is dysphagia, which is characterized by a difficulty in swallowing food. The patient may have difficulty swallowing solids or liquids. There may be a chest pain unrelated to eating. The patient may also experience unexplained weight loss, most of it due to the inability to eat normally. You may also experience recurrent chest pains and a slight pressure in the throat. There may also be a burning sensation while eating or swallowing. You may also experience extreme fatigue, incessant indigestion or heartburn, and recurrent choking while consuming any foods. Other symptoms include excessive coughing and hoarseness. In later stages, the lesions on the esophagus may also begin to bleed and you may begin vomiting blood.


Esophageal cancer treatment mostly involves a surgery to remove small and non-malignant tumors in the throat and the esophagus. Endoscopic treatments may be used at the earliest stages of the cancer. Most doctors prefer treating esophageal cancer in stages. There are clinical trials and medications that can help treat the cancer at its various stages. The treatments can be supported by complementary and alternative therapies. For recurrent esophageal cancer, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be required. The doctor may choose to give you a palliative therapy as well.