New Treatment for Growing Cancer Concern
Madison, Wisconsin - Persistent coughing, prolonged hoarseness, difficulty swallowing or unintended weight loss - each of these symptoms may be easily explained and treated. Or, they may signal a more serious problem. All are common symptoms of esophageal cancer.
While esophageal cancer is relatively uncommon, the National Cancer Institute estimated there would be fewer than 18,000 cases diagnosed in the U.S. in 2013, the survival rate is bleak. Only 16 percent of those diagnosed last year were expected to survive five years.
Esophageal cancer develops in the lining of the esophagus, a muscular tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Approximately 8 to 10 inches long, the esophagus helps transport food from the mouth to the stomach for digestion. It keeps food from traveling down the windpipe, and when it reaches the stomach, it prevents acid and stomach contents from traveling backwards.
There are two kinds of esophageal cancer. Two-thirds of patients will be diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, the type most often found in the lower part of the esophagus, and is associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The second form, squamous cell carcinoma, is generally found in the upper part of the esophagus. If esophageal cancer spreads, the cells can move to almost any other part of the body. Although the disease is considered rare, physicians are seeing an increase in the number of young men being diagnosed with esophageal cancer, according to Kenneth Meredith, MD, FACS, a UW Health surgeon with a special interest in treating gastrointestinal malignancies.
According to Meredith, a surgical oncologist with UW Carbone Cancer Center in Madison, Wisconsin, the disease is often linked to lifestyle choices. Esophageal cancer patients frequently have a history of smoking or excess alcohol consumption. Alcohol combined with tobacco use increases the risk of esophageal cancer far more than either drinking or smoking alone.
People who have been diagnosed with Barrett's Esophagus, a pre-cancer condition related to prolonged acid reflux, are at particularly high risk. There are several treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
"Surgery may be particularly effective for people with early stage cancer," says Meredith, "Traditionally, operations on the esophagus have left large incisions on the chest and abdomen and were associated with high complication rates."
With advanced technology, these operations are performed with minimally-invasive and robotic techniques, resulting in shorter hospitalizations, less post-operative pain, fewer complications and smaller incisions. Surgeons who perform many of these operations also have better outcomes compared to those who infrequently do esophageal surgeries. The most effective way to detect esophageal cancer is to recognize the symptoms and see your health care professional.
Date Published: 04/01/2014