Esophageal cancer, often mistaken for heartburn or acid reflux until it is correctly diagnosed, is a serious affliction among men and women living in this age range. Although uncommon, and much likelier to affect men, it can be fatal if it progresses beyond a certain point.

Esophageal cancer affects the inner lining of the esophagus, which is a hollow tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. When it gets worse, the afflicted person is unable to swallow and experiences severe discomfort. The condition is commonly found to be a result of alcohol and tobacco use.


  • Effortless weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Aggravating heartburn or indigestion
  • Chest pain, burning or pressure
  • Coughing or hoarseness

Barrett’s Esophagus

If there are persistent symptoms or signs appearing, it is best to get it checked as soon as possible. Esophageal cancer often follows a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is caused as a result of chronic acid reflux. If you’re worried you may have this condition, visit your nearest community medical clinic and ask the doctor what other specific signs you should watch for.

Barrett’s esophagus is perhaps the only identifiable high-risk symptom that suffices for a decisive diagnosis, which is why screening patients for esophageal cancer is not a routine procedure unless they exhibit the definite signs. If this happens, the best chances at full recovery and prevention lie within immediate treatment. Be sure to thoroughly discuss with the doctor the good and bad sides of screening.


No clear causes exist for this condition. Its roots lie in DNA mutation at the affected area. Because of this error, the cells in the area propagate without check, and subsequently, the abnormal cells combine to form a tumor, which can spread to other regions of the body.

Esophageal Cancer Types

This cancer can be classified based on which type of cells is affected. The main esophageal cancer types include the following.

  • Adenocarcinoma: This type of esophageal cancer starts in the mucus-secreting glands present in the esophagus. It generally occurs in lower part of the esophagus, and is the most commonly seen in high prevalence in the United States.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: The affected cells in this category of esophageal cancer are flat and thin, lining esophagus surface. Squamous cell carcinoma hits mostly in the middle and upper portions, and is the most common type of esophageal cancer affecting people worldwide.
  • Rarer types: Less common than the above two include sarcoma, small cell carcinoma, melanoma, lymphoma, and choriocarcinoma.

Risk Factors

Many experts believe that irritation of the esophagus is capable indirectly bringing about esophageal cancer. Said irritation can be a result of a variety of thing, such as the following.

  • Smoking
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Obesity
  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Bile reflux
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Drinking hot liquids all the time
  • Difficulty swallowing because one cannot relax their esophageal muscles
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Recent radiation treatment around the upper abdomen or chest


As esophageal cancer progresses, one or more of the following complications may arise.

  • Obstruction: It becomes difficult to pass food or liquid through the esophagus, and it gets worse unless proper treatment is sought.
  • Pain: The advanced stages bring chronic pain.
  • Bleeding: This only happens gradually, although when it does, it can be both severe and sudden.


There are quite a few steps that can be taken to ensure that esophageal cancer does not onset.

  • Stop smoking: If you are already a smoker, ask your doctor about the best strategies you can use to successfully quit. There are both counseling and medication options you can rely on. If you do not have a tobacco smoking habit, keep things that way.
  • Drink less alcohol, if at all: For a regular drinker, moderation is the key to making sure alcohol does not cause problems. A healthy adult under 65 can imbibe up to two drinks in a day without being too heavily affected in the long term.
  • Increase the portion of fruits and vegetables in your diet: Throw in some colorful items, and try out new fruits every now and then to make this more fun. Different ones bring different benefits, so make sure you buy what you really need.
  • Reach and hold a healthy weight: Being obese or even overweight significantly raises your chances of getting esophageal cancer in one form or the other. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to lose weight. Start slow and steady, and stick to your chosen plan. Aim for modest weight loss results, so you do not get discouraged early on.
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    About the Author

    Dr. Ghassan M. Al-Jazayrly, MD

    A graduate of University of Aleppo Faculty of Medicine, Dr. Al-Jazayrly or, as he is colloquially known: Dr. AJ, is an oncologist and hematologist of a Complete Care Community Health Center (CCCHC) with more than 36 years of experience. In recent years, he’s been involved with a non profit organization known as Every Woman Counts (EWC) which provides free breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services to California’s underserved populations in order to eliminate health disparities for low-income individuals.

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