About the Condition
Oesophageal Cancer affects the oesophagus, which is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Oesophageal cancer occurs when the genetic material of cells in the oesophagus become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the oesophagus and move to other parts of the body.
Oesophageal cancer is uncommon, but it is not rare. It is the ninth most common type of cancer in the UK, with more than 8,500 new cases diagnosed each year*.
This disease most commonly affects people over the age of 60, with the average age at diagnosis being 72*. The condition is more common in men than in women.
The precise causes of oesophageal cancer are unknown, although there are several identified risk factors, including:
- Having Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD)
- Having a condition called Barrett's oesophagus
- Regularly smoking and drinking alcohol
- Poor diet and obesity
- Exposure to chemicals and pollutants which include:
- metal dust
- vehicle exhaust fumes
- lye (a chemical found in strong industrial and household cleaners)
- silica dust (which comes from materials such as sandstone, granite and slate)
The symptoms of oesophageal cancer usually include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Abdominal pain
- A chronic cough
If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once, as your chances of recovery are much higher if your cancer is diagnosed early.
If you are referred to CCL for diagnosis, your consultant or oncologist will advise you on tests relevant to your symptoms. As oesophageal cancer doesn’t usually display symptoms until the disease has begun to spread, it is vital that the diagnosis is swift and accurate. Tests for oesophageal cancer include:
- A gastroscopy, which involves a long, thin tube with a tiny video camera at the end being fed down your throat to examine the affected area. This is often done under sedation, or with local anaesthetic or numbing
- A PET-CT scan, which combines a Computerised Tomography (CT) scan and a Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan into one scan to give more detailed information about your cancer. A CT scan takes pictures from all around your body and uses a computer to put them together. A PET scan uses a very small amount of an injected radioactive drug to show where cells are active in the body
- A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer
At CCL, patients with oesophageal cancer are treated by a team of different specialists, called a Multi-Disciplinary Team, or MDT. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Options for treating oesophageal cancer vary from case to case, based on the general health of the patient and the stage of the cancer. Treatment could include:
- Surgery, where the affected area is removed
- Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
- Chemotherapy, which involves the use of chemical agents which are toxic to cancer cells, destroying them and preventing them from spreading to different areas. This can be given by injection or in tablet form
- Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease
Cancer doesn’t just leave a physical impact on an individual, but that it can have a huge emotional effect as well. Cancer and its treatment can be overwhelming, causing a wide variety of emotions, and it is important to remember that there is no right or wrong response. Reactions vary hugely from person to person, and most people find that it becomes easier to cope when they’re given additional support, so that’s what we do.
At CCL we provide support both physically and emotionally before, during and after treatment. We offer a wide range of services for patients, as well as their loved ones, designed to make a very difficult time as easy as possible, and to give our patients the best treatment and support possible.
Dietitians are also available to help with any swallowing problems and to help maintain body weight.
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