Your esophagus is the tube that takes food from your mouth to your stomach. When cancer develops in the esophagus, it usually is one of two main types:
- Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is the most common type of esophageal cancer in the United States. It can result from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and Barrett’s esophagus. It usually develops at the bottom of the esophagus, where stomach fluids leak back up in people with these conditions.
- Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops at the top of the esophagus. It can result from smoking or heavy drinking.
Esophageal cancer: what you should know
- Esophageal cancer is not common in the U.S., but it is more likely to develop in men, older adults and people who are obese.
- Barrett’s esophagus and frequent acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), are two of the biggest risk factors for esophageal cancer.
- If you have GERD or Barrett’s esophagus, you should talk with your doctor about whether you need screening tests to find any abnormal cells that may lead to esophageal cancer.
- Other risk factors for esophageal cancer include smoking and heavy drinking. If you smoke or drink heavily, you should try to stop as soon as possible. Your doctor at Rush can assist you with finding resources to help you quit.
How can I get help for esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer can be hard to detect because in many cases it does not cause symptoms in its early stages. But it may cause some of the following symptoms, especially in its later stages:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
Most of the time, having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have esophageal cancer. Many other conditions have similar symptoms. See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms and it doesn’t go away.
If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your doctor will likely refer to you a specialist who can confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage and extent of the disease.