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Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer occurs when the cells in the lining of the esophagus become cancerous, or malignant.

The esophagus is the hollow, muscular tube that carries food from your mouth and throat to your stomach. Cancer can begin in any part of this tube and usually results in a narrowing of the esophagus.

There are two types of esophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma — cancer that forms in the thin squamous cells that line the esophagus
  • Adenocarcinoma — cancer that forms in glandular cells

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

The exact cause of esophageal cancer is unknown. However, there are factors that may contribute to the disease.

Anyone can develop esophageal cancer, but you may be at a higher risk if any of these conditions:

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Signs of esophageal cancer are often hard to detect in the early stages of the disease. It is often not diagnosed until it advances to later stages. 

As the disease progresses, esophageal cancer symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Persistent indigestion or heartburn
  • Chest pressure or pain
  • Hiccups/coughing
  • Bleeding in the esophagus
  • Loss of appetite and/or vomiting

Esophageal Cancer Treatment at UPMC

After esophageal cancer has been diagnosed, the team of physicians at the UPMC Esophageal and Lung Surgery Institute will shape a treatment plan. 

Treatment can be based on:

  • Your specific type of esophageal cancer
  • Your stage of esophageal cancer
  • Your medical history
  • Your overall health

Treatment options for esophageal cancer

Treatment for esophageal cancer could include a combination of:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Supportive care

Surgery for Esophageal Cancer

Many esophageal cancer patients undergo an esophagectomy, a surgical procedure that removes part of the esophagus and stomach.

UPMC surgeons pioneered the minimally invasive esophagectomy (MIE), which can result in fewer complications, less pain, and a shorter hospital stay than the traditional open procedure. Having performed more than 2,500 minimally invasive esophagectomies in the last two decades, our surgeons are among the most experienced in the world for this procedure.

The MIE procedure may also be performed with robotic assistance, adding dexterity and visibility to this minimally invasive procedure. UPMC surgeons are at the forefront of robotic-assisted surgical techniques, with years of innovation and experience in the field.

Learn More About Esophageal Cancer