St. Luke's Hospital
Located in Chesterfield, MO
Main Number: 314-434-1500
Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
Find a Physician Payment Options Locations & Directions
Follow us on: facebook twitter Mobile Email Page Email Page Print Page Print Page Increase Font Size Decrease Font Size Font Size
Meet the Doctor
Spirit of Women
Community Health Needs Assessment
Home > Health Information

Multimedia Encyclopedia


    Esophageal cancer

    Cancer - esophagus

    Esophageal cancer is a cancerous (malignant) tumor of the esophagus. This isthe tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach.


    Esophageal cancer is not common in the United States. It occurs most often in men over 50 years old.

    There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. These two types look different from each other under the microscope.

    Squamous cell esophageal cancer is linked to smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

    Adenocarcinoma is the more common type of esophageal cancer. Having Barrett esophagusincreases the risk of this type of cancer.Acid reflux disease (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD) can develop into Barett esophagus. Other risk factors include smoking, being male, or beingobese.


    • Backwards movement of food through the esophagus and possibly mouth (regurgitation)
    • Chest painnot related to eating
    • Difficulty swallowing solids or liquids
    • Heartburn
    • Vomiting blood
    • Weight loss

    Exams and Tests

    Tests used to help diagnose esophageal cancer may include:

    • Barium swallow
    • Chest MRI or thoracic CT (usually used to help determine the stage of the disease)
    • Endoscopic ultrasound (also sometimes used to determine the stage of disease)
    • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) and biopsy
    • PET scan (sometimes useful for determining the stage of disease, and whether surgery is possible)

    Stool testing may show small amounts of blood in the stool.


    Upper endoscopy (EGD) will be used to obtain a tissue sample from the esophagus to diagnose cancer.

    Whenthe cancer is only in the esophagus and has not spread, surgery will be done. The cancer and part, or all, of the esophagus is removed. The surgery may be done using:

    • Open surgery, during which one or two larger incisions are made.
    • Minimally invasive surgery, during which a2 - 4 small incisions are made in the belly. A laparoscope with a tiny camera is inserted intothe belly through one of the incisions.

    Radiation therapy may also be used instead of surgery in some cases when the cancer has not spread outside the esophagus.

    Eitherchemotherapy, radiation, or both may be used to shrink the tumor and make surgery easier to perform.

    If the patient is too ill to have major surgery or the cancer has spread to other organs, chemotherapy or radiation may be used to help reduce symptoms. This is called palliative therapy. In such cases, the disease is usually not curable.

    Beside a change in diet, other treatments that may be used to help the patient swallow include:

    • Dilating (widening)the esophagus using an endoscope. Sometimes a stent is placed to keep the esophagus open.
    • A feeding tube into the stomach.
    • Photodynamic therapy, in which a special drug is injected into the tumor and is then exposed to light. The light activates the medicine that attacks the tumor.

    Support Groups

    You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    When the cancer has not spread outside the esophagus, surgery may improve the chance of survival.

    When the cancerhas spread to other areas of the body, a cure is generally not possible. Treatment is directed toward relieving symptoms.

    Possible Complications

    • Pneumonia
    • Severe weight loss from not eating enough

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you have difficulty swallowing with no known cause and it does not get better. Also call if you have other symptoms of esophageal cancer.


    To reduce your risk of cancer of the esophagus:

    • Do not smoke
    • Limit or do not drink alcoholic beverages
    • Get checked by your doctor if you have severe GERD
    • Get regular checkups if you have Barrett esophagus


    Das A. Tumors of the esophagus. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 46.

    National Cancer Institute: PDQ Esophageal cancer treatment.Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified 2/1/2013. Available at: Accessed February 4, 2013.

    National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines): Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancers. Version 2.2012. Available at Accessed February 4, 2013.


    • Digestive system


    • Heartburn prevention


      • Digestive system


      • Heartburn prevention


      A Closer Look

      Talking to your MD

        Self Care

          Tests for Esophageal cancer

            Review Date: 1/22/2013

            Reviewed By: George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

            A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Fire Fox and chrome browser.

            Back  |  Top
            About Us
            Contact Us
            Locations & Directions
            Quality Reports
            Annual Reports
            Honors & Awards
            Community Health Needs

            Brain & Spine
            Sleep Medicine
            Urgent Care
            Women's Services
            All Services
            Patients & Visitors
            Locations & Directions
            Find a Physician
            Tour St. Luke's
            Patient & Visitor Information
            Contact Us
            Payment Options
            Financial Assistance
            Send a Card
            Mammogram Appointments
            Health Tools
            My Personal Health
            Spirit of Women
            Health Information & Tools
            Clinical Trials
            Employer Programs -
            Passport to Wellness

            Classes & Events
            Classes & Events
            Spirit of Women
            Donate & Volunteer
            Giving Opportunities
            Physicians & Employees
            For Physicians
            Remote Access
            Medical Residency Information
            Pharmacy Residency Information
            Physician CPOE Training
            St. Luke's Hospital - 232 South Woods Mill Road - Chesterfield, MO 63017 Main Number: 314-434-1500 Emergency Dept: 314-205-6990 Patient Billing: 888-924-9200
            Copyright © St. Luke's Hospital Website Terms and Conditions  |  Privacy Policy  |  Notice of Privacy Practices PDF  |  Patient Rights PDF Sitemap St. Luke's Mobile