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What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

The symptoms of esophageal cancer are difficulty swallowing solids with the sensation of food getting stuck. This is progressive, meaning that it starts with occasional difficulty that then gets worse until there is a problem swallowing solids, liquids, or even saliva. You may feel achy or have vague chest pain or discomfort. Most, if not all patients, with symptomatic esophageal cancer lose weight because the cancer produces substances that suppress the appetite. Some patients have an unexplained low level of blood or anemia.

Unfortunately, when esophageal cancer causes symptoms, the cancer is usually too advanced for treatment or cure and options may be limited. This is demonstrated by the fact that more than 90% of those diagnosed with esophageal cancer die of their disease. Hopefully, by doing endoscopy on people with chronic acid reflux and diagnosing Barrett’s esophagus, this mortality rate can be improved by identifying precancer or cancerous changes earlier.

No blood tests can diagnose esophageal cancer. It cannot be diagnosed in a doctor’s office by a physical examination. Esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed by a barium study that demonstrates an abnormality in the esophagus or by endoscopy.

How can I decrease my risk of getting cancer of the esophagus? Overall, you can do some easy things to decrease cancer risk, esophageal or otherwise. Avoid smoking or chewing tobacco and limit your alcohol use. Two-thirds of all Americans are overweight, which is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers. Thus, trying to maintain an ideal weight may reduce cancer risk and will certainly decrease your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, abnormal cholesterol, and diabetes. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid foods that contain preservatives. Fresh foods contain chemicals such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that have a protective benefit. Regular exercise helps to maintain a healthy weight and decreases risk. Some vitamin supplements, such as calcium, folic acid, and antioxidants like selenium have demonstrated decreased cancer risks. Specifically for esophageal cancer, tobacco and alcohol are the major factors you can modify to decrease the chances of developing cancer. For patients with chronic acid reflux, endoscopy, as previously mentioned, can help diagnose cancer at an earlier stage or may help to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus. Some studies show that aspirin or a class of drugs called NSAIDs: most over-the-counter pain relievers, except acetaminophen (Tylenol) can decrease the risk of developing cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus.

By Mortin - Copyright 2009
Last modification 31/12/2009

What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer? References