The esophagus or the gullet is a long pipe that connects the throat and the stomach. This swallowing tube or food pipe is located between the spine and the wind pipe (or trachea) and is approximately 25 centimeters long. The inner lining of the esophagus is richly supplied with glands that keep the passage moist. The main function of the esophagus (or the food pipe) is to transport chewed food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach for digestion.
This muscular pipe, which is an important part of the digestive system is also affected with a number of disorders. One such problem is esophageal cancer. It occurs when the cells in the inner lining of the esophagus (mucosa) begin to multiply at an abnormal pace. This disease is categorized into four stages, owing to the intensity of the symptoms, and is determined with the help of various factors. In this article, you will learn about esophageal cancer prognosis.
The esophagus consists of four layers - the mucosa (or the innermost layer), the submucosa, the muscle layer, and the outer layer. In esophageal cancer, the cancerous cells attack the mucosa, from where they spread to the other layers of the esophagus and metastasize to other parts of the body. As mentioned earlier, the cells of the mucosa membrane undergo abnormal multiplication and quickly spread to the other layers, affecting them. This disease can affect any part of the esophagus. For reasons unknown, its incidence can be found more in men as compared to women.
This disease can be categorized into two types - adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. In adenocarcinoma, the lowest part of the food pipe, which is located near the stomach, is affected. It begins as a malignant tumor and has a tendency to spread quickly. Individuals suffering from Barrett's esophagus are at a higher risk of contracting adenocarcinoma in comparison to others. On the other hand, in squamous cell carcinoma, the cancerous cells attack the upper part of the gullet near the throat. This carcinoma is very common across the world.
The exact cause of this disease is still a mystery. However, many doctors believe that it may be caused due to mutations in the DNA. Unhealthy habits like chewing tobacco, smoking, and alcohol can also irritate the lining of the esophagus. Unfortunately, the initial symptoms cannot be detected. The symptoms surface only after the disease has progressed to an incurable stage. Its symptoms may include difficulty in swallowing food or fluid, pain, passing blood in stools, and sometimes, vomiting blood. Some individuals may also experience chest pain, heartburn, and a sore feeling on the entire length of the gullet. It can be treated through chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgical removal of the diseased portion.
The prognosis of this disorder depends on the stage at which it is diagnosed, the patient's age, overall health condition, and his response to the treatment administered. The staging determines the progression of the disease. Including stage 0, there are five stages on which the severity and metastasis of this deadly disease are described.
According to oncology (the branch of medicine related to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer), in the initial stages, i.e., stage 0 to stage 3, the spread of this life-threatening disease can be controlled with the help of medication and therapy. But in stage 4, which is the last stage, the disease has completely metastasized and the condition becomes irreversible.
Early diagnosis of this disease can improve the chances of survival of the patient. Sadly, the overall prognosis, especially for stage 4, is very dismal. This is due to the fact that the initial signs do not surface until they increase in severity. Diagnosis is often done at the advanced stages when it is late to control the spread of the cells. In the stages 0 to 3, the cells metastasize to the lymph nodes and the nearby organs in the body. But in stage 4, the cells spread throughout the body and cause its degeneration.
Hence, stage 4 often has poor results. The survival rate may vary according to the stage. The survival rate for the final stage is very poor and is below 5 percent, which is very unfortunate. The individual suffering from this disorder may be required to make certain modifications in his lifestyle. The patient is put on an easy to swallow and digest diet, like porridge, soups, purees, etc. Nutritional supplements may also be prescribed to maintain the overall health of the patient.
Though there is no proper treatment, with the help of proper therapy and care, a patient can lead a near-normal life.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.