April shines a light on a lesser known cancer that is not often in the headlines, esophageal cancer. 

Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons (CTVS) in Austin marks Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month as we aim to educate about this very rare but very serious condition. 

In 2019, nearly 18,000 people in  the United States were diagnosed with esophageal cancer (National Cancer Institute). Sadly, for more than 16,000 of those patients, the disease proved fatal. It is also routinely listed as one of the top ten most dangerous forms of cancer. 

“Esophageal cancer can be a hard one to detect with relatively mild symptoms such as a sore throat or a burning sensation that seems like heartburn or indigestion,”  says CTVS’ board-certified surgeon and thoracic specialist, Dr. Rachel Medbery. “Unfortunately this is how the disease progresses so rapidly, and by the time a patient seeks medical help, the cancer has often already spread unfortunately.”  

Esophageal cancer develops in the lining of the esophagus which is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. There are two types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma formed in the cells that line the esophagus and adenocarcinoma that occurs on the glands.

 Symptoms of esophageal cancer may be hard to spot initially, but could include:

  • Sore throat
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Sharp pain behind the breastbone

Contact a physician immediately should you experience these symptoms. 

Risks factors frequently contributing to esophageal cancer are:

  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Advanced age and being male
  • Barrett’s esophagus: a condition common in those suffering chronic GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) where the tissues lining the esophagus are similar to that of the intestinal lining

A diagnosis of esophageal cancer is made following several tests and procedures which might include a chest x-ray, esophagoscopy where a scope is inserted into the esophagus to check for cancerous cells, and a biopsy when suspicious tissue is surgically removed.

Dr. Medbery says the key to successfully fighting any cancer is always to catch it early. “After diagnosis, there are a range of treatments to discuss such as surgery, targeted radiation and chemotherapy. Additionally, there are many promising and hopeful new clinical trials being introduced all the time.” 

If you have questions or concerns about your risk for esophageal cancer, please visit ctvstexas.com or call us at (512) 459-8753 to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified thoracic surgeons.

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