Esophageal cancer is malignancy of the esophagus. There are various subtypes, primarily squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell cancer arises from the cells that line the upper part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma arises from glandular cells that are present at the junction of the esophagus and stomach.
Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing) is the first symptom in most patients. Odynophagia (painful swallowing) may be present. Fluids and soft foods are usually tolerated, while hard or bulky substances (such as bread or meat) cause much more difficulty. Substantial weight loss is characteristic as a result of poor nutrition and the active cancer. Pain, often of a burning nature, may be severe and worsened by swallowing, and can be spasmodic in character. An early sign may be an unusually husky or raspy voice
Although an occlusive tumor may be suspected on a barium swallow or barium meal, the diagnosis is best made with esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD, endoscopy); this involves the passing of a flexible tube down the esophagus and visualising the wall. Biopsies taken of suspicious lesions are then examined histologically for signs of malignancy.
The treatment is determined by the cellular type of cancer (adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma vs other types), the stage of the disease, the general condition of the patient and other diseases present. On the whole, adequate nutrition needs to be assured, and adequate dental care is vital. If the patient cannot swallow at all, a stent may be inserted to keep the esophagus patent; stents may also assist in occluding fistulas. A nasogastric tube may be necessary to continue feeding while treatment for the tumor is given, and some patients require a gastrostomy (feeding hole in the skin that gives direct access to the stomach). The latter two are especially important if the patient tends to aspirate food or saliva into the airways, predisposing for aspiration pneumonia