Esophageal cancer is a very complicated cancer because many symptoms are not significant until after the cancer has spread. While it is mostly symptomless until it has become severe, in some cases, there are symptoms you will notice. If you see any of these symptoms, it is a wise choice to see your doctor. Keep in mind that these symptoms can be associated with other medical problems. There is no need to panic until you talk to a medical professional. If esophageal cancer is diagnosed, the treatment options listed after the symptoms may be offered to you.
The first symptom that is usually noticed by those who are suffering from esophageal cancer is often dysphagia. Dysphagia is the clinical term for having a hard time swallowing food. At first, you may notice that solid foods are hard to swallow. As the cancer progresses you may notice that you are having issues swallowing liquids as well. A lump in your throat called an enlarged goiter might also be responsible for problems swallowing. See a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
Unexplained Weight Loss
People with esophageal cancer sometimes suffer from unexplained or unintended weight loss for a variety of reasons. Since eating is more uncomfortable and swallowing can be difficult, some people stop eating as much on a regular basis. Cancer itself can also cause weight loss. Cancer eats away at the healthy cells in your body and makes it harder to absorb nutrients. Unexplained weight loss is always something that should be addressed by a medical professional. In addition to cancer, it is usually an indication of an underlying disease that needs to be treated.
Vomiting Blood or Bloody Stools
Some esophageal cancers and tumors bleed, which can be discharged into the body several ways. Some people start to vomit blood while others will notice that their stools are turning a tarry black. Tarry black stools indicate digested blood and are a serious sign that something is wrong with the body. Additionally, the loss of blood may cause some patients to suffer from anemia due to constant blood loss in their body.
Unexplained Coughing or Hoarseness
Those who develop esophageal cancer as a result of unmanaged or undermanaged GERD may notice that their voice becomes hoarse due to vocal cord damage. The continual rise of stomach acid into the throat will eventually damage your vocal cords, and your voice will start to sound off because of it. Acid can also inflame the vocal cords causing your voice to change which is another sign that you need to see a doctor can get checked out. A tumor growing in the throat can also cause nerve damage if it grows towards the laryngeal nerve.
GERD that is Worsening
Because some people who develop esophageal cancer do so because of GERD, it stands to reason that as the cancer starts to develop chronic symptoms of GERD may get worse. Many people report that their indigestion and heartburn continue to bother them even in the presence of medications to treat GERD. If you have GERD and your medications are not working speak to your doctor now. They may need to adjust your medications to lower your risk of future cancer, or they may decide to screen for cancer now.
Surgery to Remove Tumors
The type of treatment that your doctor prescribes for esophageal cancer is heavily dependent on the level of your cancer. If you are diagnosed when the cancer is still small and has not spread, then the surgeon may recommend removing the small tumors in the throat and a small margin of healthy tissue that is around it to prevent further spread. This can be done via an endoscopy that passes into the esophagus and is the best-case scenario when treating esophageal cancer.
If the tumor is large and has embedded itself into your esophagus, then you may need to have an esophagectomy, which is surgery to remove a portion of the esophagus. As part of this surgery, the surgeon will remove the part of the esophagus that has the tumor as well as your lymph nodes and the upper part of your stomach. The portion of the esophagus that is left will then be connected to the stomach so that you can continue to eat and drink in a normal fashion.
If the stomach has been compromised by the cancer as well as the esophagus, then your surgeon may suggest that you have an esophagogastrectomy performed, which is the removal of the affected part of your esophagus and a larger portion of your stomach. Lymph nodes will once again also be removed. What is left of the stomach is then pulled up to reattach to what is left of the esophagus. If the gap is too large than your surgeon may need to use part of your colon to help connect your stomach and esophagus.
In some cases, people with esophageal cancer will also have to undergo chemotherapy in addition to surgery or in place of surgery. Chemotherapy includes the administration of heavy duty chemicals that are able to kill off cancer cells. This is the best way to relieve symptoms of cancer for those whose cancer has spread farther than the esophagus. How bad the chemo side effects will be for you depends on the chemo drugs that your doctor prescribes.
Sometimes chemo alone is not enough to kill cancer cells. Therefore, doctors choose to prescribe both chemo and radiation therapy. Radiation therapy utilizes strong X-ray beams that are able to kill the cancer cells. It is typically used before surgery is attempted or in specific cases, after surgery, if all of the cancer cannot be removed. Radiation therapy can have major side effects such as sunburn skin reactions, accidental damage to other organs, and painful swallowing, so it is usually reserved for more serious cancers.