Making up about 1% of cancer cases in the U.S., esophageal cancer is one of the rarest types. It begins in the esophagus—a long, muscular tube connecting your mouth to your stomach—and can develop in any part of the esophagus but is most common in the lower part. Esophageal cancer can be either squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma, depending on the type of cells affected.
Esophageal cancer risk factors and symptoms
Risk factors that increase your chances of developing esophageal cancer include:
The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is pain or difficulty when swallowing. This symptom often feels mild at first, but it may become difficult to swallow very soft foods. Other symptoms include:
- Chronic cough or hoarseness
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Pain or pressure in the chest or behind the breastbone
- Unintended weight loss
- Vomiting or hiccups
Esophageal cancer screenings and diagnosis
While examining your symptoms and medical history, your doctor can get a better look at your condition through one of these diagnostic tests:
- Barium swallow: Requires someone to drink a liquid with barium—a silvery metal—in it, which is easier to detect in an X-ray.
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD): Uses a thin, flexible tube to view the inside of your esophagus.
Esophageal cancer treatment and surgery
Treatment plans will vary based on your general health and the stage of the cancer at diagnosis. Your doctor may suggest:
- Radiation therapy
Our multidisciplinary team at St. Luke’s Health works with patients to recommend what treatment options are best for each case and each person. Talk to your physician for more information.