The esophagus is the connector of our mouth and stomach. It’s the tube that leads the food to its final destination. When the DNA of the cells from the lining of the gullet deteriorates, malignant tumors can grow and thus cause esophageal cancer. It’s a nasty and fatal disease which has a very low survival rate of only 10% percent, in the 5th year after diagnosis. This is why I find it very important to be aware of the risk factors that can increase chances of developing gullet tumors. With such poor survival rates awareness and prevention are highly important.
Esophageal Cancer Facts
Depending on the location of the tumors cancer of the esophagus is differentiated by two main types:
– Adenocarcinoma: is usually occurring in the lower end of the tube, at or near the junction with the stomach. This is the most frequent esophageal cancer in the US.
– Squamous Carcinoma: is located in the upper and middle part of the gullet. Worldwide this is the most occurring form of esophageal cancer.
Statistics show that this health condition is three times more likely to occur in men compared to women and white males seem more vulnerable. Survival rates can increase to 20% in younger patients, because they handle more intensive treatments which combine surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Gullet Cancer Risk Factors
It’s not clear why the DNA of the cells from the lining of the esophagus is altered and the cells start to divide erratically and grow tumors. Pregnant women used to develop this disease because of iron deficiency, but that has been solved now with a proper diet. However various researches have shown which are the main risk factors for this type of cancer:
– Alcohol Consumption: considerably increases the risk of developing esophageal cancer, especially if it’s done in excess. If you’re a fan of spirits you should know that they are the most dangerous beverages when it comes to favoring this disease. This claim is also backed by more frequent cases of gullet cancer in regions where strong drinks are popular.
– Very Hot Liquids: besides avoiding alcohol abuse, it’s also recommended to avoid drinking very hot drinks that could, lead to constant irritation of the esophagus lining.
– Smoking: Yes, this poor lifestyle habit has to also disappear in order to lower esophageal cancer risks.
– Obesity: has been proven to increase the risks of developing adenocarcinoma, mainly because of an enlarged stomach that’s pressing on the esophagus.
– GERD: that’s suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease.
– Achalasia: is a health condition that causes problems during swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that isn’t able to relax. This can lead to irritation and an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma.
– Barrett’s Esophagus: is a condition that causes a modification in the lining of the esophagus, making it similar with that of the stomach. In this case cells are considered to be one step away from becoming cancerous. Sufferers of Barrett’s gullet will have to perform regular doctor visits to control their condition.
Esophageal cancer is very dangerous because as in every case of malignant tumors, they continue to grow and affect nearby tissues and ultimately spread out in other parts of the organism causing irreparable damage. The sooner it’s detected the higher chances of a successful surgical intervention for removing the affected tissue. If the gullet tumors are diagnosed too late and spread in other areas surgery isn’t efficient anymore.
The danger lies in the fact that esophageal cancer in its early stages has usually no signs or symptoms. The first indication of the problem is triggered by difficult swallowing, caused by solid food. It’s a feeling of food remaining stuck in gullet. As the condition unfolds the same issues arise with liquids. Other symptoms include pain between the shoulder blades, a hoarse voice and coughing. Severe heartburn comes in a later stage along with vomiting.
If you have this condition within your family history, you should consult your doctor at the first signs of trouble. Also attend to regular check-ups after your fifties. Esophageal cancer is most common in older people above the age of 60.