According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), approximately 14,550 new cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2006. Esophageal cancer occurs in the tube that connects the throat to the stomach and is three to four times likelier to occur in men than in women, and 50% more likely among blacks than whites. Among blacks, the most common type of esophageal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, whereas among whites, it is adenocarcinoma.
Although in the U.S. the general population is not screened for early detection of esophageal cancer, a doctor who does not screen a patient with a high risk factor, such as one with Barrett esophagus, or who fails to recognize the symptoms, may be negligent.
People with high risk factors (such as tylosis) should regularly have endoscopic examinations (a flexible lighted tube is inserted to look inside the esophagus) and biopsies (examination of a small sample tissue under the microscope). Symptoms of esophageal cancer may include:
- A feeling of food getting stuck in your chest or throat (or dysphagia)
- Hiccups and dysphagia together
- Painful or difficulty swallowing
- Significant weight loss
- Avoidance of solid food
- Pain in throat, chest, or between the shoulder blades
- Coughing up blood
Esophageal cancer is particularly insidious in that, by the time it is detected, it is often in its advanced stages. Clinical advances, however, have improved the ability to prevent, treat, or even cure many types of esophageal cancer. Even when a cure is not available, it is often possible to improve the afflicted person’s quality of life through treatment. The key is early detection, and if a healthcare professional negligently failed to diagnose the illness in a timely manner, a lawsuit to recover damages may be warranted.
There are numerous tests that are used to diagnose esophageal cancer. The kind of test employed will usually depend on the patient’s physical examination and medical history. The tests may include:
- Barium Swallow or Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) X-rays
- Upper Endoscopy
- Computed Tomography (CT)
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Endoscopic Ultrasound
- Positron Emission Tomography
- Thoracoscopy and Laparoscopy
With better detection, survival rates have been increasing since the 1960’s. Prevention is not possible since the exact causes of esophageal cancer are not known. There are, however, additional recognized risk factors that contribute to esophageal cancer, which include smoking, heavy or chronic use of alcohol, long-term irritation of the esophagus, and previous history of other head and neck cancers.