Esophageal Cancer: Risk Factors, Types, Symptoms and Treatment

Esophageal cancer is one of the ten most common types of cancer in the world. In Spain, however, its incidence barely accounts for 1% of all tumors, which places it at number 20 of the classification. It is important to note, in addition, that 84% of cases occur in men and that the average age of diagnosis ranges between 55 and 70 years.

Risk factors for esophageal cancer
In addition to age and sex, in the terms already mentioned, a number of risk factors that favor the development of this type of cancer have been identified:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease:  especially when there is a clear and persistent symptomatology.
  • Barrett’s esophagus:  people with this disease can develop dysplasia of the mucosal cells, which is considered a precancerous lesion.
  • Other diseases:  there are other pathologies that are considered to favor this type of tumor: achalasia, Plummer-Vinson syndrome or tylosis.
  • Obesity: excessive overweight favors the appearance of gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Tobacco and alcohol: both habits increase the risk of suffering from this type of cancer, all the more the higher the consumption and especially if both factors are combined.
  • Feeding: although it has not been possible to demonstrate with absolute certainty, it is considered that a high consumption of processed meat, obesity and excessive consumption of very hot drinks favor the appearance of esophageal cancer. However, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables to act as a protective factor.
  • Professional exposure to certain toxic substances: among them are some solvents commonly used in dry cleaners, a cause-effect relationship in the development of esophageal cancer has been demonstrated in workers of this type of establishments. Bleach is another toxic that can induce it, provided it has been swallowed and caused injury to the esophagus.

Types of esophageal cancer

Depending on the cells that make up the different layers of tissues that make up the esophagus, two types of cancer are distinguished:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma . It affects the so-called squamous cells, which are found in the mucosa that lines the inside of the esophagus. It can occur anywhere in the esophagus.
  • Adenocarcinoma . It originates in the so-called glandular cells that are part of the submucosa and that in certain circumstances, such as Barrett’s disease, end up replacing squamous cells. The tumor usually appears in the lower part.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer
The most common symptoms of esophageal cancer are the following:

  • Difficulty swallowing food.
  • Chest pain
  • Unjustified weight loss.
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic cough.
  • Hoarseness.
  • Blood in stool

Treatment of esophageal cancer
Early diagnosis of esophageal cancer is not common, since no effective early detection test is available. It is only reached by chance when conducting a clinical study motivated by other causes or in high-risk patients, which, as is the case with Barrett’s disease, are closely monitored for the possibility of developing a dysplasia, that is, a precancerous lesion.

Taking this into account, the treatment will depend on the stage in which the tumor is classified or, in other words, on the stage it is in, whether it is located or has been extended to other parts of the body. In any case, the treatment will contemplate the possibility of removing the tumor by surgery, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy. These options can be used alone or in combination.


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