Oesophageal Cancer Strikes Hard: Among Top six Causes of Global Cancer Deaths

Oesophageal cancer is a serious disease that begins in the oesophagus, the long, hollow tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide after Lung cancer, Colorectal (colon) cancer, Stomach (gastric) cancer, Liver cancer and Breast cancer. The disease is more prevalent in males over the age of 55 years, and it often affects people who have smoked or used alcohol heavily.

Esophageal cancer
Oesophageal cancer. Photo by Terese Winslow

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What is Oesophageal Cancer?

Oesophageal cancer occurs when cells in the oesophagus develop changes (mutations) in their DNA. These changes cause cells to grow and divide out of control, forming a tumor that can grow to invade nearby structures and spread to other parts of the body.

There are two main types of oesophageal cancer: adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma begins in the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the oesophagus and occurs most often in the lower portion of the oesophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in squamous cells that line the oesophagus and usually affects the upper and middle parts of the oesophagus.

Symptoms and Signs

The most common symptoms of oesophageal cancer include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), weight loss without trying, chest pain, worsening indigestion or heartburn, coughing or hoarseness. Unfortunately, most oesophageal cancers do not cause symptoms until they have reached an advanced stage, when they are harder to treat.

Risk Factors and Connection to Other Cancers

The risk of oesophageal cancer increases with age, with more than 80% of diagnoses occurring in people over 55 years old. It’s rare for younger people to receive this diagnosis. The disease is more common in men than in women.

Risk factors for oesophageal cancer include having gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), smoking, having precancerous changes in the cells of the oesophagus (Barrett’s oesophagus), being obese, drinking alcohol, and undergoing radiation therapy.

Esophageal cancer can spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs. This process, known as metastasis, can lead to the development of secondary cancers in these organs.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnostic tests for oesophageal cancer include imaging tests, endoscopy, and biopsy. Treatment involves removal of the tumor through surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. Medications for esophageal cancer include Carboplatin/Paclitaxel, Cisplatin/5-Fluorouracil (5-FU), Epirubicin/Cisplatin/5-FU (ECF), Docetaxel/ Cisplatin/5-FU (DCF).

Note: Kindly do not try to self diagnose without a doctor’s supervision.

Prevention

While there is no assured way to prevent oesophageal cancer, precautions to reduce risks include quitting smoking, stopping drinking alcohol, exercising regularly, consulting a doctor immediately if gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is experienced, and consuming vitamin-rich foods.

In conclusion, oesophageal cancer is a serious disease that requires early detection and treatment. Awareness of the risk factors and symptoms can help in early diagnosis and potentially improve outcomes.

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