Esophageal Cancer: Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

This information is useful for adults and older adults
woman tasting and swallowing her cooking, which might be an issue for someone with esophageal cancer

When you swallow, food goes straight to the esophagus—a long tube that connects the throat (pharynx) to the stomach. The esophagus uses muscle power to transport food and liquid in a matter of seconds.

Sometimes, cancer will develop on the inner wall of the esophagus, after a change in the DNA causes abnormal cells to grow. About 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer occur in the United States each year, most of them in men.

Like other gastrointestinal cancers, esophageal cancer can be hard to detect until it’s become advanced.

“Unfortunately, in some patients, the symptoms can be minimal or, in rare cases, not present,” says Cary Caldwell, MD, a Yale Medicine gastroenterologist and an associate clinical professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “In the vast majority of patients, however, there is a presentation of gastroesophageal reflux or heartburn, dysphagia [or difficulty swallowing], and in advanced cases, there can be weight loss.”

Treatment depends on how far the disease has spread, but usually includes a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.