Esophageal cancer: symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and cause

With esophageal cancer there is a tumor in the tissue of the esophagus. This type of cancer is very dangerous because the disease usually does not cause any symptoms in the early stages. The patient often only notices symptoms when the cancer has already spread. Early detection is important to be able to adequately treat the disease.


  • Food does not sink well into the esophagus
  • Less appetite
  • Decrease in weight
  • Pain near the breastbone
  • Dizziness / nausea (due to anemia)
  • Tar-like / jet-black poo
  • Vomiting blood
  • Always have the hiccups


If there is a suspicion of esophageal cancer, various tests can be done.

Endoscopy and blood tests

An endoscopy is usually started. The esophagus is then examined via a tube with a camera. Pieces of tissue can also be removed. They are viewed under the microscope to see if there are tumor cells. Blood tests determine whether the patient has anemia. If the endoscopy examination shows that there is esophageal cancer, additional examinations follow.

Ultrasound and puncture

Ultrasound is performed to see if there are metastases in the lymph nodes in the neck and / or the liver. At the same time, a puncture can also be performed if the ultrasound maps abnormal glands. With a hollow needle through the skin, tissue is then taken and again examined in the laboratory. Ultrasound is also performed in combination with an endoscopy.

CT scan and PET scan

CT scans are made to see how far the cancer has spread in the body. With a PET scan, cancer cells are mapped by injecting radioactive sugar into the blood. Cancer cells consume more sugar than regular cells. At a bronchoscopy, a tube with a camera enters the lungs. This way it can be checked whether cancer cells are also there. A keyhole surgery is finally performed if it is not clear after all examinations how far the tumor has spread in the esophagus. The upper abdomen is mapped during a viewing operation.


Endoscopy and surgery

If the esophageal cancer is at an early stage, the malignant tissue can be removed by an endoscopy. In most cases, surgical intervention is necessary. That can be done in different ways. The most common operation is the tube stomach bar. The entire esophagus and the transition from the esophagus to the stomach are thereby removed. The surgeon then turns the stomach into a tube that replaces the esophagus.

Chemoradiation and radiation

Chemoradiation is used in patients with the prospect of recovery. This is a combination of chemotherapy and radiation. The tumor can shrink considerably due to chemoradiation. Chemoradiation is also occasionally used in palliative patients. In the palliative phase, irradiation is applied to esophageal patients with metastases. The growth of the tumor can be tempered this way.


If a patient has difficulty eating, a stent is placed. This is a tube that ensures that food can still pass through the esophagus. That happens when the cancer ensures that food can no longer pass through the esophagus.


The prognosis for esophagus patients depends on the stage of the disease. One in four patients who had surgery to heal still lives after five years. Approximately half of the people with esophageal cancer are eligible for treatment that seeks healing, usually with treatment through surgery and chemoradiation. In people who do not undergo surgery because the tumor has already spread far, life expectancy is not high, often less than a year.


The exact cause of the development of esophageal cancer is unknown. However, risk factors are known. These include smoking, frequent alcohol consumption, unhealthy eating (in particular consuming few fruits and vegetables), being overweight and heartburn. With stomach acid, the acidic stomach contents flow back to the esophagus. This can cause the tissue in the esophagus to break.

More chance of getting esophageal cancer

Heartburn in the esophagus often leads to esophagus inflammation. As a result, the esophagus tissue can change, one speaks of a Barrett's esophagus. People with Barrett's esophagus have an increased risk of getting esophageal cancer. This also applies to patients with achalasia. People between the ages of 60 and 70 years more often get esophageal cancer than people than younger people. The disease is rare under 50 years of age. Esophageal cancer is fairly common in countries such as China and Iran and fewer in Western countries. Possibly that is due to poisoned food.

Video: Esophageal Cancer: Symptoms and Treatments (April 2020).

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