Information about oesophageal cancer.
What is oesophageal cancer?
The oesophagus (food pipe) is a muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.
Oesophageal cancer is when abnormal cells in the oesophagus grow in an uncontrolled way. If it is not found and treated early, oesophageal cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Who can be affected by oesophageal cancer?
Oesophageal cancer is more common in men than in women. It usually occurs in people over the age of 60, although can occur at a younger age.
Anything that can increase your risk is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will develop oesophageal cancer. Even if you have no risk factors you can still develop oesophageal cancer.
- Drinking alcohol
- Certain medical conditions (such as Barrett’s oesophagus or gastrointestinal reflux disease)
- Being overweight or obese
Signs and Symptoms
There may be no early warning signs that you have oesophageal cancer. Some signs and symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Reflux, indigestion or heartburn that doesn’t go away
- Weight loss
- Pain when swallowing
- Voice hoarseness or cough
Although these symptoms are usually caused by conditions other than cancer it is important if any last for two weeks or longer - particularly if they are new, unusual or getting worse - to get them checked by your doctor as soon as possible.
If your doctor thinks you might have oesophageal cancer, they will refer you for further tests.
Usually the first test used to look for oesophageal cancer is endoscopy. Endoscopy is done using a long, thin, flexible tube containing a camera and a light to examine the lining of the oesophagus. If, during the endoscopy, the person doing the procedure sees an area that looks suspicious, they may remove a small amount of tissue from the oesophagus. This is called a biopsy. The tissue is then looked at more closely under a microscope.
If these tests show that cancer is present, then more tests may be done to find out if the cancer has spread anywhere else in the body. These tests may include blood tests and radiological imaging tests (such as a CT scan, MRI scan or X-ray).
If you have oesophageal cancer, you will be referred to a specialist. A team of health professionals with expertise and experience with oesophageal cancer will look after your care.
The treatment for oesophageal cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), the severity of your symptoms and your preferences. The main treatments for oesophageal cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy – you may have one or more of these treatments in combination.