It can be easy to take your esophagus for granted when it is working properly. But when the tissue within the tube becomes irritated by cigarette smoke, alcohol, hot liquids, or acids, its normal cells can become abnormal and even turn into cancerous cells.
Different Types of Esophageal Cancer
So, what are the types of esophageal cancer? Most cancers of the esophagus fall under one of two classifications. First, squamous cell carcinoma is a type of cancer that affects the lining of the esophagus wall. Then there’s adenocarcinoma, a cancer affecting the lower part of the esophagus by replacing healthy squamous cells with cancerous cells derived from glands.
There’s a third type of esophageal cancer called small cell carcinoma, though it’s very rare. Each of these chronic illnesses develops and progresses in a unique way. Here’s what you should know.
What Is Adenocarcinoma?
Adenocarcinoma accounts for upwards of half of all esophageal cancer diagnoses. It begins in the stomach near the glandular cells, which are not normally part of the esophageal lining. These cells can start growing as a result of Barrett’s esophagus, an abnormal esophageal condition caused by stomach acids and bile moving up into the esophagus.
This type of esophageal cancer occurs most frequently in middle-age. Men are more likely to develop it than women, and those who are overweight have a higher risk. While the lifetime risk of developing esophageal cancer in the United States is only one in 125 for men, the rate of adenocarcinoma diagnoses has been on the rise in the United States since the 1970s.
Doctors believe the spike in adenocarcinoma cases relates to the increasing number of people suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This condition causes heartburn by essentially backwashing stomach contents up into the esophagus. The chronic inflammation that occurs as a result of the condition can spur the types of mutations that lead to adenocarcinoma.
One of the best-known methods of preventing adenocarcinoma is treating acid reflux early and often. By preventing the invasion of acid and bile in the esophagus, the mutations that cause this type of cancer can be prevented.
What Is Squamous Cell Carcinoma?
Squamous cell carcinoma, which affects the cells lining the esophagus, is the second most common form of esophageal cancer. The condition begins when squamous cells become abnormal and start multiplying and growing uncontrollably.
The two biggest risk factors for squamous cell carcinoma include smoking and heavy drinking. Quitting (or never starting a smoking habit) is the number one way to prevent this type of cancer. Additionally, drinking alcoholic beverages in moderation may also help you avoid squamous cell carcinoma.
What Is Small Cell Carcinoma?
As mentioned above, small cell carcinoma is a very rare form of esophageal cancer, accounting for only 0.1% to 2.4% of all cases. The notably aggressive tumor has a high probability of metastasis. But thankfully, it’s a rare disease. On the other hand, since it’s so rare, scientists don’t have a great understanding of its causes and the methods of preventing it.
The TNM System of Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer is classified into five stages, ranging from zero to four. Like most cancers, the early stages are easier to treat and generally more survivable than the later stages. That said, the diagnosis of esophageal cancer can be much more nuanced than just a simple number. Here’s how medical experts classify the stages of esophageal cancer.
The stage of the cancer is determined by analyzing three key pieces of information using what’s known as the TNM system, which stands for tumor, nodes (as in lymph node), and metastasis.
Tumor: The extent or size of the tumor is measured by the “T” of the TNM system.
Nearby Lymph Nodes: Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes is measured with the “N” of the TNM system.
Metastasis: The spread of the cancer to distant sites, known as metastasis, is measured with the “M” of the TNM system.
This framework allows doctors to identify the precise stage of cancer so they know what cancer treatment will be the most effective. A number or letter follows each of the T, N, and M designations depending on how far the cancer has progressed.
Learn More About Esophageal Cancer
Here at Immunity Therapy Center, we’re committed to guiding patients and their families on the path to recovery by providing safe and natural therapies with optimal outcomes. Get in touch with us to learn more about what causes esophageal cancer along with symptoms of esophageal cancer to look out for.
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.