A new study published in the journal Cancer reveals that patients suffering from esophageal cancer may experience different “clusters” of symptoms months after surgery, and that patients with certain clusters may be at increased risk of death from the disease.

Esophageal cancer is defined as cancer of the esophagus, also known as the gullet or food pipe.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are expected to be 17,930 new cases of esophageal cancer in the US this year, with 15,210 deaths from the condition.

Researchers who conducted this most recent study, led by Dr. Anna Wikman of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, say that only 25% of all patients diagnosed with esophageal cancer are estimated to undergo surgery, as many patients have tumors that are too advanced to remove or they are not healthy enough for the procedure.

Of the patients who do receive surgery, only 30% survive 5 years or longer after the procedure.

The investigators say that surgery for esophageal cancer can cause severe post-operative symptoms for patients that can affect their quality of life. Symptoms include problems eating and swallowing, reflux, pain and fatigue.

Previous research looking at symptoms of other cancers has revealed that patients may experience symptoms in specific groupings, and that these groupings could determine patient outcomes.

To see whether this is the case for esophageal cancer, the investigators analyzed 402 patients who underwent surgery for the condition.

From their analysis, the researchers found that patients experienced specific symptoms that “clustered” together into three separate groups 6 months after surgery. These groups were divided into symptoms related to:

  1. Fatigue and pain
  2. Reflux and cough
  3. Eating difficulties.

The investigators found that patients who experienced symptoms relating to reflux and cough, as well as eating difficulties, were more likely to die from esophageal cancer, compared with patients who did not experience these symptom groups.

Dr. Wikman says their findings suggest that post-operative esophageal cancer symptoms should “not be considered in isolation but that clusters of symptoms must be considered.”

She adds:

It seems that patients who experience clustering of certain symptoms also have an increased mortality risk over and above the effect of other known prognostic factors.

These findings suggest that it may be important to address these symptom clusters in the clinical setting in order to potentially reduce the increased mortality risk associated with them.”

However, Dr. Wikman notes that since this is the first study to look at symptom clusters of patients who have been surgically treated for esophageal cancer, further work is needed to confirm these clusters exist.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that statins may reduce the risk of esophageal cancer.