April is Esophageal Awareness Month

April is  Esophageal Awareness Month

According to federal statistics, an estimated 18,440 people living in the United States were diagnosed with esophageal cancer and an estimated 16,170 died of the disease in 2020, making it one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

The two most common forms of esophageal cancer are named for the type of cells that become cancerous:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the esophagus. This cancer is most often found in the upper and middle part of the esophagus but can occur anywhere along the esophagus. This is also called epidermoid carcinoma.    
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the esophagus produce and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinomas usually form in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach.

Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • painful or difficult swallowing
  • weight loss
  • pain behind the breastbone
  • hoarseness and cough
  • indigestion and heartburn

The following can increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer:

  • smoking
  • heavy alcohol consumption
  • Barrett’s esophagus 

Other risk factors include older age, being male, and being African American.

***March 22, the U.S. FDA approved pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in combination with chemotherapy for patients with advanced esophageal or gastroesophageal (GEJ) carcinoma who are not candidates for other treatments. This is the second approval for pembrolizumab for patients with esophageal and GEJ cancers.