What Is Esophageal Cancer?

February 21, 2011

 Please note before reading this blog that I am not a doctor.

I feel that I can write about this because I watched my husband go through it, all the tests, the treatments, the pain, the weakness and, finally, the death. I hope reading of my experience will help others understand that they are not alone. If just one person reads this and changes their eating habits or reads about the symptoms and, understanding the very small window of opportunity, seeks medical help early, it will have been worth reliving all the memories.

The best site I have found for information about esophageal cancer is Esophageal cancer – MayoClinic.com.

Some Facts

Sometimes the symptoms of cancer are fleeting, or sneak up on a person so they don’t know anything serious is wrong until it’s too late.

Esophageal cancer is one of the sneakiest: no pain, no noticeable swelling, fast growing and quick to metastasize. Usually by the time you know you have it, it has already spread to the liver, lungs, brain, and even the heart. Life expectancy after detection is from 6 to 18 months.

It is so new and rare that there wasn’t even a brochure about it at the Cancer Clinic so we had to ask all the questions about chances of survival, treatments, life expectancy and the myriad of other questions you ask in shock and immediately forget the answers.

Those of you who are going through it or have friends or family with cancer of the esophagus may know these facts already, but for those who don’t, here it is:

  • it is non-gender specific – both men and women are susceptible.
  • it is non-race and/or age specific;
  • there is no known specific cause, although acid reflux, soft drinks, and spicy foods have been linked;
  • it does not cause pain – in fact, you may notice a few months before detection that your acid reflux doesn’t bother you any more – I’ll get into the reason later;
  • chances of detection early enough for a chance of cure with a full course of chemo, radiation, and esophajectomy surgery with gastric pull-up are about 3%;
  • of those 3% of cases that are detected early and get the full treatment approximately 1% have a full cure;
  • this makes your chances of surviving esophageal cancer somewhere around .03% or 3 in 10,000 detected cases;
  • average lifespan of those who are diagnosed too late is somewhere around 6 months.

I’m not giving you this information to frighten you, just the word ‘cancer’ is enough to do that. I’m telling you these things to let you know how incredibly lucky you are if your cancer is detected early, if you are in a position to have the treatments, and if you are one of the rare and fortunate victims who is actually cured.

I will be updating this Esophageal Cancer secton each Monday with information about our trip through the medical system, causes of esophageal cancer, helpful dietary tips, and web links that offer official and updated information about this cancer that is the fastest growing cancer in North America. So tune in on Monday. If you have comments, or a story about your trip through the medical system, please leave it in the comments section. 

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2 Responses to “What Is Esophageal Cancer?”

  1. kayuk said

    Thanks for the information! You’ve made the ‘Comment of the Week’ entry!

  2. Mark Valcour said

    I understand the need for your ‘disclaimer’ that you are not a doctor, but hopefully anyone reading this will realize you write as a ‘witness’. Good start! Very pertinent and clear information.
    3 or 4 days ago CBC reported that a ’60 or so’ man had received a new ‘4 probe’ laser procedure in Canada that amounted to a ‘cure’ for his esophageal cancer. You might want to check CBC’s website for this story. They were billing this procedure as ground breaking, and could lead to an increase in treatment success rates…

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