There are two types of esophageal cancer, depending on the type of cells that are malignant. The first type is found in the lining of the esophagus which is made up of flat, thin cells called squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma arise in these squamous cells and usually occurs in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.
The other type is called Adenocarcinoma and usually develops at the bottom of the esophagus that are lined with columnar cells.
Esophageal cancer starts in the esophagus but it can develop outside the esophageal wall and spread to other body parts such as bones, lungs, liver and brain through the lymphatic system.
What Lifestyles Trigger Esophageal Cancers?
While squamous cell carcinoma is related to alcohol and any kind of tobacco use, adenocarcinoma is more related to gastroesophageal reflux disease. The development of adenocarcinoma from Barrett’s esophagus is considered relatively rare, however its number is increasing higher than any other esophageal cancers.
– Chest pain or heartburn
Acid reflux is known to be one of the esophageal cancer culprits. The esophageal lining is not designed to be exposed to the acidic fluid from the stomach so it will cause inflammation in the esophagus and create a burning sensation or chest pain, also known as heartburn. Frequent exposure to the gastric acid can damage the esophageal lining and turn the squamous cells into glandular cells that are commonly found in the intestines. This adaptation develops Barrett’s esophagus which is more resistant to the acid, however people with Barrett’s esophagus have a 30- to 125-fold increased risk of developing esophageal cancer, according to Dr. Romero, a gastroenterologist from Mayo Clinic. Around 10 percent of patients with GERD develop Barrett’s esophagus, and the only way to confirm whether a patient has it or not is by doing endoscopy and biopsy, although endoscopy can’t 100% detect all BE cases. People with Barrett’s esophagus normally seek help because of GERD symptoms such as acid reflux or heartburn. Barrett’s esophagus itself creates no clear symptoms so if a GERD patient experienced no acid reflux symptoms, he/she will probably never be aware of the BE existence.
Barrett’s esophagus can turn into adenocarcinoma, the esophageal cancer that develops at the bottom of the esophagus.
– Swallowing Problem
People with esophageal cancer will find difficulty in swallowing – whether liquid or solid foods – and suffer from pain during swallowing. Food may stick in the esophagus and when regurgitation happens undigested food can be vomited.
– Weight Loss
Many people want to lose weight but definitely not due to esophageal cancer. Swallowing problems may lead to malnutrition because their difficulty to swallow prevent them from eating enough to maintain their weight. The uncontrolled development of the cancerous cells also increase the metabolism in these cells leaving almost nothing to feed the remaining non-cancerous cells.
– Blood Vomiting and/or Tarry Stools
When the cancer is spreading already to the intestines it may cause blood vomiting, blood in the stools and iron deficiency anemia.
Most of esophageal cancer cases are discovered at the later stages of the cancer development, for example when the patients have difficulty to swallow. Due to this reason the cancer is considered highly lethal, with a 5-year survival rate of less than 15%. However if the Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed at its early stage the patients can make some action plans such as change of lifestyle, do medical check up periodically and anything that can improve the quality of life. Despite there is nothing we can do to stop or cure the Barrett’s esophagus, a study by the Kaiser Permenente Division of Research showed that drinking a glass of wine every day may lower the risk of Barrett’s esophagus by 56 percent.