What is esophageal cancer?
Esophageal cancer begins when cells that line the esophagus change and grow out of control, forming a tumour. There are 2 main types of esophageal cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops in the upper and middle part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma begins in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus.
What is the function of the esophagus?
The esophagus is a 10-inch long, hollow, muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. When a person swallows, the walls of the esophagus squeeze together to push food down into the stomach.
What does stage mean?
The stage is a way of describing where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. There are 5 stages of esophageal cancer : stage 0 (zero) and stage I through IV (1 through 4).
How is esophageal cancer treated?
The treatment of esophageal cancer depends on the size and location of the tumour, the type of esophageal cancer, whether the cancer has spread, and the person’s overall health. For cancer that has not spread beyond the esophagus and lymph nodes, doctors often recommend a combination of radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. The order of treatment varies, but chemotherapy and radiation therapy are commonly recommended before surgery or, for some people, instead of surgery. Treatment for esophageal cancer that has spread to other parts of the body usually involves radiation therapy and chemotherapy, which is sometimes combined with targeted therapy. Surgery, radiation therapy, and other approaches can also help relieve pain or help patients eat. It may be difficult to cure esophageal cancer beacuse it is often not found until it is in an advanced stage. The side effects of esophageal cancer treatment can often be prevented or managed with the help of your health care team. This is called supportive care or palliative care and is an important part of the overall treatement plan.
For earlier stages of cancer, surgery to remove the tumour and nearby lymph nodes usually is the first treatment. Additional treatment with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, hormonal therapy, or targeted therapy is usually given after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer returning. These treatments may also be given before surgery to shrink the size of the tumour. The treatment of cancer that has spread or come back after treatment depends on many factors.It can include the therapies listed above used in a different combination or at a different pace. Regular communication is important in making informed decisions about your health care. It can be helpful to bring someone along to your appointments to take notes and understand.
Consider asking your health care team the following questions:
1. What type of esophageal cancer do I have?
2. Can you explain my pathology report (laboratory test results) to me?
3. What stage is the esophageal cancer? What does this mean?
4. Would you explain my treatment options?
5. What treatment plan do you recommend? Why?
6. What is the goal of each treatment? Is it to eliminate the cancer, help me feel better, or both?
7. Who will be part of my treatment team, and what does each member do?
8. How will this treatment affect my daily life? Will I be able to work, exercise, and perform my usual activities?
9. Will this treatment affect my ability to become pregnant or have children?
10. What long-term side effects may be associated with my cancer treatment?
11. If I’m worried about managing the costs of cancer care, who can help me?