Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Mar 5, 2023.
What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer starts in the cells that line the esophagus.
What increases my risk for esophageal cancer?
- Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco, or drinking alcohol
- Barrett esophagus (cells like intestine cells grow in your esophagus)
- High-fat foods, such as fried foods, chips, and some pork or beef dishes
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
What are the signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer?
You may not have any signs or symptoms at first. You may develop more than one of the following over time:
- Difficult or painful swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest or stomach pain or discomfort
- Bloody bowel movements or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss without trying
How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?
- A barium swallow is an x-ray of your esophagus and stomach. You will drink a white chalky liquid called barium to help your esophagus show up better on an x-ray.
- A CT or MRI may show cancer and if it has spread. You may be given contrast liquid to help the cancer show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
- Endoscopy is used to examine the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and part of your small intestine. Your healthcare provider uses a small tube with a camera on the end.
- A biopsy may be used to take a sample of tissue from your esophagus to be tested for cancer.
How is esophageal cancer treated?
- Surgery may be needed to remove part of your esophagus or lymph nodes. This may help stop the cancer from spreading.
- Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumor or lymph nodes before surgery. Once the tumor is smaller, surgery can be done to remove the cancer.
- Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells with x-rays or gamma rays. Radiation may be given after surgery to kill cancer cells that were not removed. It may be given alone or with chemotherapy.
What can I do to manage esophageal cancer?
- Do not use tobacco. Tobacco products may make your symptoms and cancer worse. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
- Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol increases the risk for mouth or stomach cancer. Alcohol may also make your symptoms worse.
- Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Take small bites, and chew your food well before you swallow. Be especially careful when you eat meat, fruits, and vegetables. You may need to change what you eat during treatment. A dietitian may help to plan the best meals and snacks for you.
- Drink liquids as directed. If you have nausea or diarrhea from cancer treatment, extra liquids may help decrease your risk for dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
- Exercise as directed. Exercise may help increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.
Where can I find support and more information?
- American Cancer Society
250 Williams Street
Atlanta , GA 30303
Phone: 1- 800 - 227-2345
Web Address: http://www.cancer.org
Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:
- You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough.
- You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
- You cough up blood.
When should I seek immediate care?
- You vomit multiple times and cannot keep food or liquids down.
- You feel you cannot cope with your illness.
- You are bleeding from your mouth or nose.
- Your arm or leg feels warm, tender, and painful. It may look swollen and red.
When should I call my doctor?
- You have a fever.
- You have pain that does not decrease or go away after you take your pain medicine.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
Care AgreementYou have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.
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