If you or a loved one are facing an esophageal cancer diagnosis, you’re likely wondering whether this disease can be cured. We’re pleased to tell you that esophageal cancer can be treated, removed, and even “cured” to the point where it’s no longer detected in the patient’s body.
Having said that, the ability to cure esophageal cancer patients depends on how far the disease has progressed. When caught in the early stages, this type of cancer can be physically removed through surgeries and other medical procedures. Late-stage cancers, on the other hand, must be treated systematically, typically through radiation and chemotherapy.
The ultimate goal of esophageal cancer treatment is to remove tumors from the patient’s body. This sometimes requires preoperative chemotherapy or preoperative radiation therapy to shrink tumors before they’re taken out. And in most cases, postoperative chemotherapy helps ensure cancer cells that couldn’t be surgically removed are also killed.
Types of Esophageal Cancer
So, what are the types of esophageal cancer? More than 98% of esophageal cancer diagnoses fall into one of two categories. The most common form of esophageal cancer is called adenocarcinoma, which begins in the lower esophagus and eventually replaces the existing cells with cancerous gland cells.
In a healthy body, food travels down the esophagus from the mouth to the stomach, where it’s then digested by bile and stomach acid. But for people suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the contents of the stomach often backwash into the lower esophagus.
When acids continually irritate the lower esophagus, this can cause a condition called Barrett’s esophagus and other unwelcome changes, including the development of adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of esophageal cancer. It’s essentially a mutation of the squamous cells, which normally line the esophagus. The most common risk factors associated with this type of cancer are smoking and frequent, heavy drinking.
Stages of Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancers are categorized by five stages, which range from zero through four. Stage zero cancer is a precancerous diagnosis of abnormal cells, and it’s often caught during routine biopsies among people with Barrett’s esophagus.
A stage one esophageal cancer diagnosis happens when cancerous cells are discovered in the esophagus with no regional spread. With stage two esophageal cancer, the diagnosis is given when a cancerous growth is found in the connective tissue or muscle layer of the esophagus.
Stage three esophageal cancers are diagnosed when the growth has spread beyond the esophagus and into nearby tissue. And stage four means the growth has spread well beyond the esophagus and into distant lymph nodes or organs.
Treating Esophageal Cancer
Treatment for stage zero esophageal cancer generally involves removing abnormal cells through endoscopic procedures in which a doctor places a tube down the patient’s esophagus. A common method of treating stage zero cancers is endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), the removal of the abnormal cells. EMR is an outpatient procedure with a high success rate and limited recovery time.
Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a similar technique of targeting abnormal cells using electrical currents. With this technique, doctors can essentially burn away cancerous cells.
Stage one esophageal cancer most often requires surgical resection of the esophagus. If caught early enough, however, techniques like EMR and RFA might suffice.
When surgery is required, the procedure is known as an esophagectomy. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also commonly used after surgery if there are signs that the cancer hasn’t been entirely removed.
Chemoradiation may also be given before surgery, depending on the size and location of the tumor. In some cases, preoperative chemoradiation can cure esophageal cancer outright.
Stage two and three are typically treated with chemoradiation followed by surgery and then immunotherapy. Immunotherapy for esophageal cancer is a course of medication that improves the body’s natural immune responses in an effort to kill any lingering cancer cells.
Treating stage four esophageal cancer is very difficult to do surgically. Chemotherapy and immunotherapy are generally the best treatment options. However, stage four treatment mainly focuses on treating the symptoms of Esophageal cancer and trying to control further spread for as long as possible.
Esophageal Cancer Treatment from Immunity Therapy Center
The five-year overall esophageal cancer survival rate can be as high as 50% when detected and treated in the earlier stages. A patient’s age, overall health, and many other factors contribute to the success of the cancer treatments, and the compassionate team at Immunity Therapy Center can help you and your family determine the best course of action.
At Immunity Therapy Center, our goal is to provide objective, updated, and research-based information on all health-related topics. This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles. All information has been fact-checked and reviewed by Dr. Carlos Bautista, a Board Certified Medical Doctor at Immunity Therapy Center. All information published on the site must undergo an extensive review process to ensure accuracy. This article contains trusted sources with all references hyperlinked for the reader's visibility.