Monday, April 2, 2012

Diagnosed with esophageal cancer

Three weeks ago I was diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer.

My cancer appears to be the result of acid reflux I experienced for a few months 3 years ago. Acid Reflux is essentially when stomach acid comes up from the stomach into the esophagus, a condition called "gastro-esophageal reflux disease" (GERD). The most serious consequence of acid reflux is esophageal cancer or adenocarcinoma, a deadly cancer with a 5-year survival rate of less than fifteen percent.

I was completely unaware of this possible consequence from acid reflux and never realized the peril it presented. I'm not certain of anything I could have done to have actually prevented this as the acid damage to the esophagus occurred when the acid reflux occurred. However, if I'd been aware of the danger then perhaps I might have been motivated to seek treatment earlier and possibly catch the cancer at a much earlier stage. This begs the question as to why there isn't more public awareness of this form of cancer and encouragement for individuals with acid reflux to become vigilant for this cancer.

This is part of my motivation in creating this blog: to hopefully expand public awareness of esophageal cancer and to add to the public discussion on the subject. This blog is also my attempt to chronicle my experience and treatment and to document relevant research and news regarding esophageal cancer.

 It is Monday, April 2nd, 2012, and I begin chemotherapy and radiation this upcoming Wednesday.

Relevant links on esophageal cancer:
The James Graham Brown Cancer Center
Why Persistent Acid Reflux Sometimes Turns Into Cancer: New Clues
Esophageal Cancer

Causes, incidence, and risk factors 
Esophageal cancer occurs most often in men over 50 years old. Two main types of esophageal cancer exist: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. These two types look different from each other under the microscope.
  • Squamous cell esophageal cancer is linked to smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Barrett's esophagus, a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), increases the risk for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. This is the more common type of esophageal cancer. 
  • Backwards movement of food through the esophagus and possibly mouth (regurgitation) Chest pain unrelated to eating Difficulty swallowing solids or liquids Heartburn Vomiting blood Weight loss 

Tests used to help diagnose esophageal cancer may include: 
  • Barium swallow Chest MRI or thoracic CT (usually used to help determine the stage of the disease) 
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (also sometimes used to determine the stage of disease) 
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) and biopsy PET scan (sometimes useful for determining the stage of disease, and whether surgery is possible) 
When esophageal cancer is only in the esophagus and has not spread, surgery is the treatment of choice. The goal of surgery is to remove the cancer. Sometimes chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of the two may be used instead of surgery, or to make surgery easier to perform. If the patient is too ill to have major surgery or the cancer has spread to other organs, chemotherapy or radiation may be used to help reduce symptoms. This is called palliative therapy. In such cases, the disease is usually not curable.

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