Diseases & Conditions
Boston Medical Center specializes in the treatment of many thoracic cancers, which are tumors that arise in the lungs or esophagus. We are here to diagnose and treat your cancer. We can also assist with pain control and with improving your breathing, cough and swallowing which can be impaired by the cancer. Our staff of dedicated nurses, oncologists, and surgeons is here to help you and your family in any way we can. Please let us know if you have questions or concerns.
What is Esophageal Cancer?
Esophageal cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the esophagus, the tube between your mouth and stomach. Generally between 10 and 13 inches long, the esophagus contracts when you swallow to push food down into the stomach. Mucus helps move this process along.
Ninety percent of esophageal cancers are one of two types: squamous cell or adenocarcinoma.
- Squamous cell refers to cancers that originate in the cells that line the esophagus. Alcohol and smoking are the biggest risk factors for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.
- Adenocarcinoma begins in the gland cells of the esophagus and is most often seen near the junction of the esophagus and stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the major risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma.
What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?
Some people do not notice any symptoms of esophageal cancer until late in the disease. Symptoms of esophageal cancer can include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Weight loss
- Hoarseness or long-lasting cough
What are the Causes?
The causes of esophageal cancer are not fully understood, but scientists have discovered several likely contributing factors. These include:
- Advancing age. People over age 60 are more likely to develop the disease.
- Gender. This cancer is more common in men than women. Esophageal adenocarcinoma is significantly more common in men than in women (7:1 ratio).
- Tobacco use. Smoking is a major risk factor for esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Drinking is also a risk factor and together smoking and drinking increase risk more than one risk alone. Smoking is considered a risk factor for adenocarcinoma as well.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). When stomach fluids reflux into the esophagus, the esophagus cells can be damaged. The cells can become abnormal and become what is known as Barrett's esophagus (BE). Be is a risk factor for dysplasia and then esophageal adenocarcinoma.
- A Previous history of head or neck cancers is a risk factor for esophageal cancer (among other cancers including breast, endometrial, pancreas and kidney).
- An unhealthy lifestyle, which means being overweight or eating a diet low in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?
Learn how esophageal cancer may be treated