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Esophageal Cancer - WVU Cancer Institute

Cancers We Treat:
Esophageal Cancer

Cancers of the esophagus, the tube that goes from your throat to your stomach, can form anywhere along the esophagus. In many cases, it develops in the cells that make up the lining of the esophagus.

Types of Esophageal Cancers We Treat

Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

This is a cancer that starts in the glandular cells of your body that are found in the lower part of the esophagus. Some conditions, such as Barrett’s esophagus, a condition where the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged by acid reflux, might lead to adenocarcinoma.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma starts in the cells lining the upper part of the esophagus but is most common in the neck and upper chest cavity.

Diagnosing Esophageal Cancer

There are different ways to diagnose esophageal cancer. It’s important for you to talk with your doctor if you notice any new symptoms or problems with swallowing, heartburn, indigestion, or weight loss. If your doctor suspects you have cancer, they may order certain tests to figure out what’s going on in your body.

  • Physical exam — Doctors use a physical exam to look for signs of something going on in your body, such as the presence of a tumor. These can include skin color changes, enlargement of an organ, or lumps in your lymph nodes.
  • Blood tests — Blood tests to measure organ function may indicate whether other organs in your body, such as your liver, may be affected by cancer.
  • Upper endoscopy — Doctors use this procedure to look inside the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine to check for abnormalities. Using a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope, doctors can see down through your mouth and throat into your esophagus.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound — Doctors combine endoscopy with ultrasound to create images of the digestive tract and its surrounding organs and tissues.
  • Advanced imaging — Doctors use ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET) scans to detect signs of disease and see whether cancer has spread to other areas of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, or lungs.
  • Biopsy — Doctors use this test to examine tissue under a microscope to determine whether cancer is present. During a biopsy, a doctor removes a small sample of tissue at the tumor site to analyze in a lab. Biopsy results help oncologists plan the best treatment for you. There are several different biopsy types, including image-guided biopsy, endoscopic biopsy, or surgical biopsy.
  • Laparoscopy — Doctors use this procedure in cancers of the stomach and lower esophagus to evaluate the extent of cancer spread and make treatment decisions. A thin tube with a light and camera called a laparoscope is inserted through small incisions in your abdomen to take a closer look at organs inside the abdomen. Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure. While more invasive, it has the advantage of directly visualizing tumors in the abdominal cavity that can sometimes be missed by CT or PET-CT imaging. Bronchoscopy, where a thin tube is passed down your throat, and into your lungs, may be pursued if there is any suspicion of invasion of cancer into the airway.

Treatment for Esophageal Cancer

From your first visit, our team works with you to address your specific condition and needs. Your care plan may include:

  • Medical oncologyMedical oncology includes chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy. Our doctors use the latest in anti-cancer medicine to destroy cancer cells. We also use medicines to slow cancer growth and shrink tumors before surgery. Sometimes, we use medication alongside other treatments, such as radiation, or after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that might remain.
  • Radiation oncology — We use radiotherapy treatments to target, destroy, and shrink many types of cancers. The treatments use a linear accelerator to produce precise, high-energy rays that target the exact area of cancer and spare healthy cells. Radiation oncology includes 3D conformal radiotherapy, image-guided radiation therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), and brachytherapy.
  • SurgerySurgery can help us diagnose, stage, and treat many tumors. We also use it to relieve symptoms caused by tumors. Surgical options for esophageal cancers can include robotic esophagectomy, minimally invasive or open endoscopic mucosal resection, partial or total gastrectomy, and video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS).

Resources for Esophageal Cancer

We believe cancer care goes beyond diagnosis and treatment. Many resources are available to answer questions and connect you with others, including:

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