The esophagus is a hollow, muscular tube that sits between the spine and the windpipe. It is part of the digestive system. Its main function is to move food and drink from the mouth to the stomach. The act of swallowing triggers the esophagus to push the food downward and into the stomach.
Sometimes cells in the esophagus change or stop growing altogether. This can lead to both non-cancerous masses like cysts, webs, and rings, or pre-cancerous or cancerous cells that lead to esophageal cancer. A common precancerous ailment is called Barrett's esophagus.
There are several different types of esophageal cancer:
- Adenocarcinoma — cancer starts in cells that make mucus, called glandular cells. This is the most common type of esophageal cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma — cancer starts in the flat, thin cells called squamous cells.
Rare types of esophageal cancer include gastrointestinal neuroendocrine tumor or carcinoma, small cell carcinoma, and leiomyosarcoma.
Causes & Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
There is a higher rate of esophageal cancer among men, than women. Most people who are diagnosed with esophageal cancer are over the age of 60. China, South America, France, Iran, and Africa have the highest rates of esophageal cancer.
Risk factors for esophageal cancer include:
- tobacco use
- alcohol use
- betel quid use
- history of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease)
- Plummer-Vinson syndrome
- history of cancer in the trachea
- radiation exposure
- underweight / overweight
- family history
Other possible risk factors include:
- diets low in vegetables and fruit
- eating red meat
- eating processed meats
- genetic mutations
- CF (cystic fibrosis)
Some of the following symptoms can be caused by things other than esophageal cancer, so it is important to visit your physician for a proper diagnosis.
Symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
- weight loss
- pain when swallowing
- indigestion / heartburn
- pain in throat or chest
- loss of appetite
- regurgitating undigested food
- nausea and/or vomiting
Who Gets Esophageal Cancer
People who use tobacco excessively are more at risk for developing esophageal cancer. Men are more commonly diagnosed with esophageal cancer than women. Risk rises with age.
Prognosis if You Have Esophageal Cancer
Often, cancer of the esophagus is not diagnosed until the later stages. This is reflected in the 5-year survival rates for esophageal cancer. The earlier it is diagnosed the better the prognosis.
5-Year Survival Rates for Esophageal Cancer:
- Stage I — 40 percent
- Stage II / III — 21 percent
- Stage IV — 4 percent
Keep in mind, these statistics do not separate adenocarcinomaCancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Most cancers of the breast, pancreas, lung, prostate, and colon are adenocarcinomas., squamous cell carcinomas or other more rare types of esophageal cancer. That said, patients with adenocarcinomas tend to have a slightly better outlook.
Treatments for esophageal cancer vary depending on several factors including stage, grade, and type of cancer along with the age and the overall health of the patient.
Conventional medicine’s main types of treatment for esophageal cancer include:
- Targeted therapy
- Palliative therapy
How to Prevent Esophageal Cancer
There are several factors for esophageal cancer that are beyond our control. That said, there are also lifestyle choices you can make that can limit your risk of esophageal cancers including not using tobacco or alcohol, and even more so, using them together, as the risk factor grows when they are used together.
Immune System Health
A healthy immune system remains your body's best defense. Not only is a weak immune system a major reason patients have cancer — and cancer itself can further weaken the immune system.
Beta glucans help regulate the immune system, making it more efficient. In addition, beta glucans stimulate white blood cells (lymphocytes) that bind to tumors or viruses and release chemicals to destroy it.
Beta Glucan has been approved in Japan, Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan as an immunoadjuvant therapy for cancer. In fact, helping with cancer is just the beginning with Beta Glucan. There have thousands of studies showing the product can protect against infections, lower your cholesterol, lower blood sugar, reduce stress, increase your antibody production, heal wounds, help radiation burns, overcome mercury-induced immunosuppression (like Thimerosal, used as a preservative in vaccines), help with diabetes, and even naturally prevent metastasisThe spread of cancer cells from the place where they first formed to another part of the body. In metastasis, cancer cells break away from the original (primary) tumor, travel through the blood or lymph system, and form a new tumor in other organs or tissues of the body. The new, metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are breast cancer cells, not lung cancer cells. (or the spreading of your cancer).
Harvard Medical School suggests following general good-health guidelines is the single best step you can take toward keeping your immune system strong and healthy:
- Don't smoke.
- Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in saturated fatA type of fat with certain chemical properties that is usually solid at room temperature. Most saturated fats come from animal food products, but some plant oils, such as palm and coconut oil, also contain high levels. Eating saturated fat increases the level of cholesterol in the blood and the risk of heart disease..
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Control your blood pressure.
- If you drink alcohol, drink only in moderation.
- Get adequate sleep.
- Take steps to avoid infection, such as washing your hands frequently and cooking meats thoroughly.
- Get regular medical screening tests for people in your age group and risk category.
More Information: Building the Immune System
Your diet plays a role in a healthy immune system. The top vitamins your immune system needs to perform include:
- Vitamin C — helps to repair and regenerate tissues and aids in the absorption of iron
- Vitamin E — a powerful antioxidant that helps your body fight off infection
- Vitamin B6 — supports adrenal function and is necessary for key metabolic processes
- Vitamin A — aids immune function and helps provide a barrier against infections
- Vitamin D — modulates cell growth, promotes neuromuscular and immune function, and reduces inflammation
- Folate — key in development of red blood cells (a lack of Folate can make the body susceptible to cancer)
- Iron — helps your body carry oxygen to cells
- Selenium — slows the body's overactive responses to certain aggressive forms of cancer
- Zinc — slows the immune response and control inflammation in your body
Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, Cancer Research Society