Esophageal cancer typically progresses quickly once it reaches the advanced stages. It does not usually cause symptoms early on, and doctors may only diagnose it after tumors have progressed enough to cause symptoms.
Esophageal cancer is rare and accounts for about
The outlook is generally poor because of the fast progression and late diagnosis typical of esophageal cancer. However, there are ways to manage and prevent the condition.
The tumor begins to grow in the inner layer of the wall of the esophagus — a flexible, muscular tube connecting the stomach and throat.
Because the esophageal wall is flexible, the tumor may continue to grow unimpeded, pushing surrounding tissue out of the way.
Consequently, a person may not notice the tumor growth and may only become aware of esophageal cancer when symptoms occur.
Most esophageal cancers do not cause symptoms until they have already progressed to an advanced stage. While the initial progression of the tumor may be slow, esophageal cancer typically progresses quickly once symptoms occur.
As esophageal cancer progresses, tumor-causing esophageal cancer cells spread to other areas of the body and may reach distant lymph nodes and organs, such as the liver and lungs.
Once esophageal cancer progresses beyond the esophagus to a certain degree, doctors
After diagnosing esophageal cancer, a doctor will try to determine whether it has spread and how far.
Doctors refer to this process as staging, and it can help them understand the severity and extent of the cancer and how best to treat it. The stages of esophageal cancer are from
- Tumor (T): Doctors look at the extent, or size, of the tumor, how far into the esophageal wall it has grown, and whether it has reached nearby organs or structures.
- Nodes (N): Doctors determine whether the cancer has spread to any nearby lymph nodes.
- Metastasis (M): Doctors determine whether the cancer has metastasized, or spread, to distant organs such as the liver or distant lymph nodes in other areas of the body.
Below is a table that describes the stages of esophageal cancer.
|Stage||Description of stage|
|0||The tumor is in the top layer of cells in the esophagus and has not grown into the deeper layers, or spread to lymph nodes or other areas of the body.|
|1A||The tumor is growing into tissue in the esophagus called the epithelium but has not spread to lymph nodes or other areas of the body.|
|1B||The cancer continues to grow into the thick muscle layer of the esophagus or the tissue under the epithelium, but it has not spread to lymph nodes or other areas.|
|2A||The tumor is growing into either the thick muscle layer or the outer layer of the esophagus, but it has not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.|
|2B||The tumor is growing into the outer layer of the esophagus, the submucosa, or the tissue under the epithelium, but it has not spread to lymph nodes or other areas.|
|3A||The tumor is growing into various tissues in the esophagus and has spread to |
|3B||The cancer has either: |
• grown into the outer layer or thick muscle layer of the esophagus and has spread to
• grown into the tissue surrounding the lungs or heart, or the diaphragm, and has spread to no more than
|4A||The cancer has either: |
• grown into any of the layers of the esophagus and spread to
• grown into the diaphragm and tissue surrounding the heart and lungs and spread to no more than
• spread to crucial structures such as the trachea, spine, or aorta and no more than
|4B||The cancer has spread to distant structures, lymph nodes, or organs, such as the lungs or liver.|
The 5-year relative survival rate refers to the likelihood that a person will survive for at least 5 years after their diagnosis with esophageal cancer compared with the general population.
The 5-year survival rates for each stage of esophageal cancer are
- localized esophageal cancer, stages 0–2B: 47%
- regional esophageal cancer, stages 3A–3B, unless the cancer has spread to distant areas: 26%
- distant esophageal cancer, stages 3B–4B: 6%
People rarely experience early symptoms of esophageal cancer. In
People typically experience symptoms of esophageal cancer in the advanced stages. Common symptoms
There are many resources available to help people cope with esophageal cancer following a diagnosis. A doctor may be able to offer helpful advice and information and suggest support groups and other resources.
The American Cancer Societyoffers the Cancer Survivors Network (CSN), a peer support community for those with cancer and their families, friends, and caregivers.
- CancerCare provides free support services for people with esophageal cancer, such as counseling, information resources, financial assistance, and support groups.
The National Cancer Instituteprovides an online toolto help people find support services nationwide, as well as an online chat tooland a helpline, available at 800-422-6237
- City of Hope provides esophageal cancer support services, such as help navigating the healthcare system, managing pain, and administering care.
Esophageal cancer typically progresses quickly once it reaches the advanced stages.
Doctors do not often diagnose the cancer during the early stages, as people typically do not experience symptoms until the cancer has metastasized, or spread to other areas of the body.
Because doctors are usually only able to diagnose esophageal cancer in the advanced stages, the outlook is generally poor.