Oesophageal cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the oesophagus or gullet. It is the sixth most common cause of cancer death worldwide.
A risk factor refers to anything that increases your risk of getting a disease. With regards to oesophageal cancer, there are several risk factors:
However, it is important to note that having a risk factor does not automatically mean you will get cancer, and not having any of the risk factors does not mean you will not get cancer. It is important to talk to your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
When oesophageal cancer gets more advanced, several symptoms may result as the cancer becomes bulkier and begins to obstruct the oesophagus. Sometimes, cancer may also invade nearby structures and result in symptoms.
Signs and symptoms to take note of include:
When the tumour gets advanced and begins to obstruct the oesophagus, you may experience a phenomenon known as dysphagia, which refers to difficulty swallowing. There may also be pain when swallowing, which is referred to as odynophagia.
Oesophageal cancer is rapidly progressive, and dysphagia may occur suddenly, and progress very fast. Typically, you may first experience some difficulties with swallowing solid foods, and this difficulty may progress to being unable to swallow liquids, leading to regurgitation of fluids that you ingest. Dysphagia due to oesophageal cancer is a mechanical cause, and the severity of the dysphagia typically depends on how large the tumour is. As such, if you experience difficulty swallowing/feel, there is an obstruction, this should be a warning sign.
When there is cancer in the oesophagus, you may begin to experience some slight discomfort in the chest as the cancer may lead to heartburn and indigestion. Other symptoms include abdominal pain, acid reflux, and general discomfort in the upper abdomen.
Sometimes, oesophageal cancer may also cause chest pain. This chest pain is chronic and usually feels like a pressure or a burning sensation in the middle of the chest. This typically occurs when the swallowed food reaches the part of the oesophagus where the tumour is growing and may occur a few seconds after swallowing. The pain gets more noticeable as cancer further develops.
Many with oesophageal cancer develop unexplained weight loss. Cancer is an anabolic process, and the growth of the tumour often takes up a large amount of energy expenditure. This is why people often lose weight, as the growth of cancer causes the body to have an energy deficit. In oesophageal cancer, eating difficulties may also cause people to lose weight, as they are unable to swallow their food. Loss of appetite may also happen in cancer, thereby resulting in poorer oral intake.
Having a hoarse voice that sounds scratchy and does not go away may be a sign of oesophageal cancer.
Hopefully, this short guide has helped you better understand oesophageal cancer and the signs and symptoms to look out for. Oesophageal cancer is treatable. However, this largely depends on the size, type and location of the tumour, as well as your general health. If you experience any of these symptoms, please visit an Oesophageal cancer specialist in Singapore for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.