The esophagus is a muscular tube through which food is passed from the oral cavity into the stomach. Glands in the esophageal wall secrete mucus, lubricating the esophagus to make the swallowing process more efficient and comfortable. In adults, the esophagus is approximately 10 inches long and spans from the trachea (windpipe) to the top of the stomach.
When cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis arise in the esophagus, a cancer may develop. These cells, having undergone an anomalous transformation that causes them to proliferate abnormally, form a structure called a neoplasm. If this neoplasm destroys adjacent tissues, and/or spreads to other areas of the body, a cancer is formed.
Esophageal Cancer Risk Factors
- Gender: Men develop more esophageal cancers than women.
- Age: Your risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age. The disease typically occurs in people over the age of 55.
- Ethnicity: Certain types of esophageal cancer express a racial predominance. For instance, blacks develop more squamous cell esophageal cancers than any other race or ethnicity in the United States. Whites, on the other hand, are more likely to develop esophageal adenocarcinoma.
- Chronic Inflammation of the Esophagus: Gastric reflux (heartburn), or any disorder that leads to the long-term inflammation of the esophagus may cause esophageal cancer.
- Radiation: Recipients of radiation treatments for other cancers have an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
- Drinking Hot Beverages: There is some evidence that suggests that people who consume excess amounts of hot liquids are more likely to develop esophageal cancer. More research is needed, however, to further define this association.
- Diet: A diet high in processed and red meats may lead to the development of esophageal cancer. Additionally, a diet lacking colorful fruits and vegetables may equally lead to the development of this disease.
- Obesity: Obese people are more likely to develop esophageal cancer.
- Exposure to Certain Chemicals and Materials: Statistics suggest a link between people who work around cleaning solvents and esophageal cancer. Furthermore, frequent exposure to silica (a component of granite and sandstone) may lead to the development of this disease.
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption: The excessive consumption of alcohol over a period of many years may cause esophageal cancer.
Esophageal Cancer Outlook
Because esophageal cancer usually metastasizes to other tissues in the body before it is diagnosed, it is associated with high morbidity rates. Less than 5% of patients survive for more than 5 years. A large segment of esophageal patients die within a year of detecting their first symptom. For these reasons, a physician’s primary objective in treating this disease is to control its symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.
Esophageal Cancer Prevention
- Eat Right: Consume an array of colorful fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Avoid processed foods and too many red meats. Whole grains also contribute to healthy digestion and may help prevent esophageal cancer.
- Exercise: Regular exercise will help you maintain a normal weight and may help prevent the onset of many different cancers, including esophageal cancer.
- Treat Heartburn: Do not ignore severe heartburn, especially if it occurs frequently. Consult a doctor about treatment options and lifestyle changes that may help you avoid gastric reflux.
- Consume Alcohol in Moderation: Women should consume no more than one alcoholic beverage per day, and men should consume no more than two.