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Esophageal Cancer

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:

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. 

Care for esophageal cancer at Rush

The kind of treatment you need will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, as well as your overall health and any other conditions you may have.

Doctors at Rush work with patients — and with each other — to determine the best course of treatment. They welcome patients seeking second opinions.

If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, your care at Rush will likely involve one or more of the following:

  • Surgery: Surgeons at Rush can remove your whole esophagus or just the part of it affected by the cancer. This type of surgery is called an esophagectomy. If the cancer is in the lower part of the esophagus, they may also need to remove part of your stomach. When possible, surgeons at Rush use laparoscopic techniques, which involve smaller incisions can lead to less pain and faster recovery times. 
  • Chemotherapy: Doctors at Rush offer the latest cancer-fighting drugs.
  • Radiation therapy: Doctors at Rush use advanced technologies that target the cancer with high doses of radiation while protecting surrounding tissue
  • Complementary therapies: Rush has a Cancer Integrative Medicine Program that offers massage, yoga, biofeedback and other therapies to help you cope with pain, loss of energy and other challenges related to cancer.

Why choose Rush for esophageal cancer care

  • U.S. News & World Report ranks Rush's cancer program among the best in the country.
  • Many patients at Rush receive care at the Rush University Cancer Center's Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Clinic for Gastrointestinal Cancers. At the clinic, specialists combine their expertise to consider all the options and create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs.
  • The Rush University Cancer Center has been awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer. Rush has received this award, which is given every three years, each time it has been evaluated by the Commission on Cancer.
  • The Rush University Cancer Center is a hub of cancer research. Doctors and researchers at Rush are enrolling patients in trials of drugs and other treatments that might not be widely available.

Departments and programs that treat this condition