Esophagus Cancer

What is esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer happens when normal cells in the esophagus change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The esophagus is the tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach.

What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer?

Early on, people might not notice any symptoms. They might find out they have esophageal cancer after a test for another condition.
When people have symptoms from esophageal cancer, they might have:

  • Trouble swallowing, especially solid foods – This gets worse over time.
  • Weight loss
  • Pain or a burning feeling in the chest
  • Hoarse voice

All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not cancer. But if you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for esophageal cancer?

Yes. If your doctor suspects you have esophageal cancer, he or she will do 1 or more of the following tests:

  • Barium swallow – Your doctor will give you a drink called “barium.” Then he or she will take X-rays as the barium moves down your esophagus.
  • Upper endoscopy – This is a procedure in which your doctor puts a thin tube with a camera and light on the end (called an endoscope) into your mouth and down into your esophagus. He or she will look at the lining of your esophagus.
  • Biopsy – For this test, your doctor will take a small sample of tissue from your esophagus. Another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if it has cancer. Your doctor will probably do a biopsy during an upper endoscopy. A biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have esophageal cancer.

What is cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out if a cancer has a spread past the layer of tissue where it began, and, if so, how far.

The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the stage of your cancer and your other medical problems.

How is esophageal cancer treated?

Most people with esophageal cancer have 1 or more of the following treatments:

  • Surgery – Esophageal cancer can be treated with surgery to remove the cancer. If your doctor needs to remove part of your esophagus during surgery, he or she will reconnect your esophagus and stomach so that you can swallow food.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the term doctors use to describe a group of medicines that kill cancer cells.

Esophageal cancer can sometimes be cured with treatment. This is most likely when the cancer is found at an early stage. If your cancer cannot be cured, your doctor might do other treatments to help improve your symptoms. These can include:

  • Using a laser beam or electric current to kill the cancer cells
  • Doing a procedure to widen the blocked part of your esophagus

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Regular follow-up tests usually include exams, blood tests, and imaging tests. Some people also have follow-up upper endoscopy or barium swallow tests.
You should also watch for the symptoms listed above. Having those symptoms could mean the cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

What happens if the cancer comes back or spreads?

If the cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more radiation therapy or chemotherapy. You might also have other treatments to help improve your symptoms.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctor’s instructions about visits and tests. It’s also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.
Getting treated for esophageal cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have.
Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?

What are the symptoms of multiple myeloma?

Multiple myeloma can cause many different symptoms. These include:

  • Bone pain or bones that break easily
  • Nausea, vomiting, confusion, or feeling more thirsty than usual
  • Feeling more weak, tired, or short of breath than usual
  • Blurry vision
  • Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the chest, lower back, or legs
  • Getting sick more easily
  • Losing weight without trying to
 All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not multiple myeloma. But if you have these symptoms, let your doctor or nurse know.
  • Severe back pain
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the legs
  • No control over your bladder or bowel (that is a new problem)

Is there a test for multiple myeloma?

Yes. Your doctor or nurse will do an exam and tests. Tests can include:

  • Blood or urine tests
  • Bone marrow biopsy – A doctor will take a very small sample of the bone marrow. Another doctor will look at the sample under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.
  • X-ray or other imaging tests – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

How is multiple myeloma treated?

People with multiple myeloma often have one or more of the following treatments:

  • “Watch and wait” – Some people have a condition called “smoldering myeloma” before they get multiple myeloma. These people do not have any symptoms and might not receive treatment right away. But their doctor does follow them. When they start to have symptoms, they will have active treatment.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the term doctors use to describe a group of medicines that kill cancer cells.
  • Steroid medicines – These medicines can kill cancer cells and slow cancer growth. (These steroids are not the same steroids that athletes take to build muscle.)
  • Medicines called “immune modulating medicines” – These medicines stop the cancer from growing.
  • Bone marrow transplant – The bone marrow makes blood cells, including white blood cells. During a bone marrow transplant, a doctor removes some bone marrow from the body. Then, the person gets medicines called “chemotherapy.” These medicines are usually used to kill cancer cells, but they also kill bone marrow cells. After chemotherapy, the doctor puts the bone marrow back into the person’s body.

People with multiple myeloma also have treatment for any symptoms they have. For example, doctors might treat bone symptoms with pain medicines, medicines to stop bone loss, or radiation therapy. Radiation can kill cancer cells.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be checked every so often to see if the cancer comes back. Treatment does not usually cure the disease, but it can reduce symptoms and help people live longer. Follow-up tests can include blood tests, urine tests, imaging tests, or bone marrow biopsy.

What happens if the multiple myeloma comes back?

If the multiple myeloma comes back, you might get more chemotherapy, immune modulating medicines, steroid medicines, or bone marrow transplant.

What else should I do?

It is important to follow all your doctors’ instructions about visits and tests. It’s also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.
Getting treated for multiple myeloma involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have and when. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?