Esophageal cancer patients often have questions about the causes and effects of the condition. Here’s what we know about what esophageal cancer is and what causes esophageal cancer.
The esophagus is the hollow, muscular tube responsible for moving food and liquids from the throat to the stomach. Its walls are made up of several layers of muscle and tissue, including mucous membranes and connective tissues. Esophageal cancer starts growing on the innermost portion of the tube before spreading outward through the other muscle layer.
Types of Esophageal Cancer
There are two main types of esophageal cancer, which are named after the type of normal cells that first become cancerous. The first is squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer that generally forms in the upper and middle part of the esophagus, within the flat cells lining the inside of the tube.
The second type is adenocarcinoma, a cancer that begins in the glandular cells of the esophagus. Adenocarcinomas usually form in the lower esophagus near the stomach. The causes and symptoms of both types of esophageal cancer are similar.
Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
The most common signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer relate to discomfort behind the breastbone, which sits along the path of the esophagus. Chest pain or difficulty swallowing could be an indicator of esophageal cancer, though there are many other less serious conditions that could cause such a symptom.
Weight loss, hoarseness in the throat, coughing, indigestion, and heartburn can also be indications that a person is suffering from esophageal cancer. Sometimes, an individual will have a lump under their skin along the path of the esophagus.
But in order to diagnose esophageal cancer and rule out more common ailments like a chest cold, a physician will perform a physical exam and review the individual’s health history. This can involve checking them for signs, such as lumps or other unusual indicators. A chest X-ray can help a doctor diagnose the disease as well.
An esophagoscopy may also be performed. The test involves inserting a thin, tube-like camera into the patient’s esophagus to search for signs of cancer. During this procedure, physicians might take tissue samples to inspect under a microscope (also called a biopsy).
Esophageal Cancer Causes
So, how do you get esophageal cancer? While there aren’t currently any known esophageal cancer causes, there is a broad consensus about associated cancer risk factors. In general, chronic irritation of the esophagus could contribute to the changes that cause this type of cancer. Other potential risk factors include tobacco use, poor diet, and Barrett’s esophagus.
Smoking is thought to be a leading risk factor for esophageal cancer. Cigarettes and other tobacco products are known to contain harsh, cancer-causing chemicals that are generally bad for the body. What’s more, the hot smoke can irritate the esophageal lining, which may bring about the types of changes in the tube that lead to cancer.
Poor dietary habits might also contribute to esophageal cancer. People who drink alcohol heavily and those who consume very hot liquids, like tea and coffee, are at risk for irritating their esophagus.
It’s also thought that not eating enough fruits and vegetables might be a contributing factor. Additionally, esophageal cancer is more common among older people, as well as those who are obese.
Barrett’s esophagus is a common precursor to esophageal cancer. The condition occurs when the cells lining the lower part of the tube mutate into pre-cancer cells, which is most often a result of gastroesophageal reflux.
Can You Prevent Esophageal Cancer?
The exact esophageal cancer causes aren’t crystal clear. Still, there are some steps you can take to lower your chance of developing it. Doctors recommend avoiding tobacco use, limiting alcohol consumption, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Avoid Tobacco Use
Doctors recommend without reservation that tobacco users find a way to quit. Quitting smoking can be undoubtedly difficult, but it’s really an individual’s best shot at preventing esophageal cancer.
Limit Alcohol Consumption
Experts also suggest moderating alcohol intake. While drinking alcohol may not be as harmful as smoking (at least in the context of getting cancer), it still has negative effects. For people who already suffer from gastrointestinal issues like gastroesophageal reflux, limiting alcohol consumption can help reduce the risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating more fruits and vegetables can help your body maintain a balance of the nutrients it needs to promote healthy cell growth. The food we eat forms the building blocks of our cells. And by providing materials for our esophageal lining, we can help prevent the formation of abnormal cells or cancerous cells.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Finally, maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid esophageal cancer. If you’re overweight or obese, there are many strategies available to achieve a slow and steady rate of weight loss.
Learn More About Esophageal Cancer
If you’re interested in learning more about the symptoms, causes, and if esophageal cancer is curable, contact Immunity Therapy Center today. Our experienced, compassionate team is ready to guide you on the path to long-term wellness with the best cancer treatment for you.
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.