April marks the beginning of Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month; this type of cancer has received its own month fairly recently-and with good reason. The two types of esophageal cancer are Esophageal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (ESCC), and Esophageal Adenocarcinoma (EAC). ESCC is on the decline in the US, and western nations. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the flat cells lining the esophagus. It is associated with risk factors such as smoking and heavy alcohol.
However, the second type, Esophageal Adenocarcinoma (EAC), has been estimated at an increase of more than 600% in the last four decades. Gastroesophageal reflux disease and Barrett Esophagus (pictured right) may increase the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma. Esophageal cancer has a discouraging survival rate of less than 20%. It is hard to detect early, as it typically causes no signs or symptoms. Adenocarcinoma begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids, and although it is not entirely clear what causes esophageal cancer, it has also been associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Symptoms and signs of esophageal cancer include:
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Weight loss without conscious effort
- Chest pain, pressure or burning
- Worsening indigestion or heartburn
- Coughing or hoarseness
If you are interested in supporting Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, please visit ecan.org, and learn how you can volunteer, attend an event, sponsor event participants, host an event or donate! There are patient guides to early detection available in English and Spanish. You can even send an eCard to someone you care about.