Esophageal Cancer Patients

Esophageal cancer impacts over 18,000 Americans each year. Fortunately, treatment outcomes for esophageal patients are continuing to improve. Due to the critical structures near the esophagus such as the heart, lungs, liver, and spinal column, esophageal cancer should be treated with extreme precision to avoid damage to healthy tissue. 

Primary Types of Esophageal Cancers:

Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the esophagus, a muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The esophagus plays a crucial role in the process of swallowing, as it allows food and liquids to move from the mouth to the stomach for digestion.

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This type of esophageal cancer originates in the squamous cells lining the inner surface of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is often associated with risk factors such as tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and certain dietary habits. It was historically the more common type, but its incidence has decreased in many parts of the world.nclude glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), astrocytoma, oligodendroglioma, and ependymoma.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus develops in the glandular cells that produce mucus and line the lower portion of the esophagus. It is typically associated with a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precancerous condition where the normal squamous cells of the esophagus are replaced by glandular cells. Barrett’s esophagus is often related to chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and acid reflux. Adenocarcinoma has become the more common type of esophageal cancer in many Western countries.

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer Include:

  • Tobacco use: Smoking and other forms of tobacco consumption increase the risk of esophageal cancer, particularly squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption, especially in combination with tobacco use, raises the risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): Chronic and severe acid reflux, which causes irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, can increase the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus and adenocarcinoma.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: Individuals with Barrett’s esophagus have a higher risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese is associated with an increased risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Diet: A diet low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed meats, spicy foods, and hot beverages may be associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer often does not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. As it progresses, common symptoms may include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), chest pain or discomfort, weight loss, regurgitation, and hoarseness. These symptoms are not specific to esophageal cancer and can be caused by other conditions, so a thorough medical evaluation is essential if they persist or worsen.


Esophageal cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. As the cancer progresses, symptoms can develop. It’s important to be aware of these potential symptoms, especially if they persist or worsen, as early detection and treatment can improve outcomes. Common symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia): This is one of the most common and often the earliest symptom of esophageal cancer. Initially, you may experience difficulty swallowing solid foods, and later, even liquids can become hard to swallow.
  • Pain or Discomfort: Persistent pain or discomfort in the chest or upper abdomen, often behind the breastbone (sternum), is a common symptom. It may feel like burning or pressure.
  • Unintended Weight Loss: Significant and unexplained weight loss can occur as a result of difficulty eating due to dysphagia or reduced appetite.
  • Regurgitation: Food or liquid that is swallowed may come back up into the throat or mouth, especially when lying down or bending over.
  • Heartburn or Indigestion: Frequent or severe heartburn, acid reflux, or indigestion, especially if it doesn’t respond to over-the-counter antacids or lifestyle modifications, should be evaluated.
  • Hoarseness or Chronic Cough: Changes in the voice, including hoarseness, chronic cough, or the sensation of something stuck in the throat, can occur when the cancer affects the nerves or vocal cords.
  • Chest Pain: Chest pain, particularly when swallowing, can be a symptom, although it’s not specific to esophageal cancer and can have other causes.
  • Vomiting and Nausea: Nausea and vomiting may occur, particularly if there is significant blockage of the esophagus.
  • Fatigue: General fatigue and weakness can result from a combination of factors, including reduced calorie intake due to difficulty eating.

It’s important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by various other conditions, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), hiatal hernia, and benign esophageal strictures. However, if you experience any of these symptoms, especially if they persist for several weeks or become more severe, it’s essential to seek medical evaluation and discuss your concerns with a healthcare provider. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment are critical for improving the prognosis in individuals with esophageal cancer.


Diagnosis typically involves a combination of tests, including endoscopy, biopsy, imaging studies, and staging procedures. Treatment options for esophageal cancer depend on the type, stage, and location of the cancer and may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy. Early detection and prompt treatment are crucial for improving outcomes in individuals with esophageal cancer.


The treatment for esophageal cancer depends on several factors, including the type of esophageal cancer, the stage at diagnosis, the location of the tumor, the patient’s overall health, and individual preferences. Treatment options for esophageal cancer may include one or a combination of the following modalities:

  • Surgery: Surgical intervention is a common treatment for localized esophageal cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancerous tumor and potentially nearby lymph nodes.
  • Radiation Therapy: High-energy X-rays or other forms of radiation are used to target and kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to kill cancer cells or inhibit their growth. It may be administered before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) to shrink tumors, after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to eliminate any remaining cancer cells, or as a primary treatment for advanced or metastatic esophageal cancer.
  • Targeted Therapy: Targeted therapy drugs are designed to target specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer growth. While not as commonly used as in some other cancer types, targeted therapies may be used for certain cases of esophageal cancer, particularly those with HER2-positive tumors.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy aims to stimulate the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. It is being studied as a treatment option for esophageal cancer, particularly in the setting of clinical trials.
  • Supportive Care: Managing symptoms, controlling pain, and improving quality of life are important aspects of treatment.

The choice of treatment depends on the type, stage, and location of the cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health and individual circumstances. Treatment plans are often customized to address the unique characteristics of each case. Regular follow-up care is essential for individuals who have been treated for esophageal cancer to monitor for recurrence and manage potential side effects of treatment.


Unlike X-ray radiation from traditional treatments like IMRT, TomoTherapy, and Cyberknife, protons can be stopped inside the tumor, which can lower the exposure to excess radiation to critical structures such as the heart, lungs, liver, and other healthy tissue. Side effects such as pain with swallowing, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, heart attacks, lung complications, and more are significantly reduced with proton therapy versus other forms of radiation treatment for esophageal cancer. In some instances, disease-free survival and overall survival can be increased for esophageal cancer patients treated with proton therapy.