Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
Esophageal cancer is a disease that begins in your esophagus.
Your esophagus is a muscular tube that food passes through from your mouth to your stomach.
The flat, thin cells lining your esophagus are called squamous cells.
Below the surface, cells divide and flatten to make new squamous cells as the old ones wear out.
If you have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD,
you frequently have a backflow, or reflux, of acid from your stomach into your esophagus.
Over time, GERD may cause the squamous cells lining your lower esophagus to be replaced with gland cells that make mucus, called goblet cells.
This change in the lining of your esophagus is a condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
One type of esophageal cancer, called adenocarcinoma, may occur in the changed lining of Barrett’s esophagus.
Another type of esophageal cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma, occurs in the squamous cells in your esophagus.
Like all cancers, both of these types begin when damaged or abnormal genetic material inside your cells causes them to grow out of control.
A tumor forms as the abnormal cells begin to multiply.
Over time, a lump may form in the wall of your esophagus as the tumor grows.
You may have no symptoms in the early stages of esophageal cancer.
Later, you may have trouble swallowing when the tumor becomes large enough to block part of your esophagus.
Having trouble with swallowing may cause you to have difficulty eating.
As a result, you may lose weight in short period of time.
Depending on the location of the growing tumor, you may also have pain in your chest or neck.
If you have esophageal cancer, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following: surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Surgery is the most common treatment for esophageal cancer, especially in the early stages when the tumor is small.
If you have a surgical procedure, your doctor will remove the section of your esophagus that contains the tumor,
as well as some normal tissue above and below it.
The surgery may include removing part of your stomach.
The remaining healthy esophagus and stomach will be attached to each other.
Your surgeon may also remove nearby lymph nodes to see if cancer cells have spread to them.
Your doctor may recommend chemotherapy as a main treatment for more advanced tumors or to shrink your tumor before surgery.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop cancer from spreading by either stopping or slowing down the growth of cancer cells.
Your doctor may recommend radiation therapy, such as external beam radiation therapy, in addition to chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy damages and kills the esophageal cancer cells.
Some common ways to reduce your risk of esophageal cancer include:
seeking treatment if you have gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, quitting smoking, and avoiding alcohol.