Esophageal Cancer

Cancer of the esophagus is rare and among the most complex to treat. That’s why you need a thoracic cancer team that has special expertise in esophageal cancer. 

At the John Theurer Cancer Center, our thoracic surgeons are the most experienced in the region in treating this disease. You have access to innovative treatments and clinical trials of promising new treatments for esophageal cancer you won’t find anywhere else in the area. 

What is Cancer of the Esophagus?

Part of your upper digestive tract, the esophagus is a hollow tube that carries food and liquid from your mouth down your throat to your stomach. 

Cancer of the esophagus is usually one of three types: 

  • Adenocarcinoma: Forms in gland cells that produce mucus in the esophagus. Most often associated with Barrett’s esophagus, GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) or obesity that can cause chronic inflammation of the lower esophagus. It is the most common form. 
  • Small Cell Carcinoma: This rare form of esophageal cancer begins in the neuroendocrine cells that release hormones. 
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Forms in the thin cells lining the esophagus. Most often associated with smoking and alcohol consumption.
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What are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

Many times, esophageal cancer does not cause symptoms until it is advanced, making it harder to treat. Contact your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, which may be a sign of esophageal cancer or another health condition:  
  • Anemia, fatigue and weakness (caused by bleeding in the esophagus)
  • Black tar-like stools (caused by bleeding in the esophagus passing through the digestive tract)
  • Chronic cough
  • Difficulty and/or painful swallowing
  • Hoarse voice
  • Indigestion, burning or pressure in the throat or chest 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Vomiting

Diagnosing Esophageal Cancer

If you have symptoms of esophageal cancer, your doctor may recommend testing. At the John Theurer Cancer Center, we always start with the least invasive approaches to diagnosing cancer. Our advanced imaging, endoscopy and genomics laboratory allow us to make a highly accurate diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan targeted to your exact cancer.

Physical Exam and Lab Tests

Your doctor will meet with you to discuss your symptoms, examine you for signs of esophageal cancer and take a medical history to consider risk factors. 

Sometimes, people with esophageal cancer become anemic from a bleeding tumor. Your doctor may order blood tests to check your red blood cell count for anemia. 

Advanced Imaging

John Theurer Cancer Center offers the most advanced high-definition imaging technology. Our radiologists have training and experience diagnosing cancer of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Imaging is important in determining the size and depth of esophageal tumors for surgical planning. Advanced imaging tests may include:

  • CT
  • MRI
  • PET

Barium Swallow Test

A barium swallow test is a noninvasive way for doctors to see if you have any abnormal areas of the esophagus. 

  • You swallow barium – a thick, chalky liquid – that coats the walls of the esophagus. 
  • We take x-rays of your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
  • The barium outlines the lining of your esophagus. This allows our radiologists who specialize in cancer of the GI tract to identify any bumps or raised areas that could be cancer and should be tested further. 

Biopsy

The only way to diagnose esophageal cancer is to take a biopsy, or sample of the tissue, for laboratory testing. This can be done in several ways. 

Endoscopy: During an endoscopy, the doctor passes a thin, flexible, hollow tube with a small video camera down your throat into the esophagus and stomach. The doctor views the inside of your upper GI tract on a monitor. Using special tools on the endoscope, the doctor removes small samples of abnormal tissue. Endoscopy is done under general anesthesia. 

Endoscopic Ultrasound: During endoscopy, your doctor may perform advanced imaging called endoscopic ultrasound. A probe at the end of the endoscope uses high-energy sound waves to look for tumors so tissue can be removed for testing. This is helpful in determining the exact size and location of any tumors and if you are a candidate for surgery. Adjacent lymph nodes also may be biopsied.  

Additional Biopsy and Staging: If esophageal cancer is diagnosed, you may need further testing to determine its stage and for treatment and surgery planning. Like endoscopy, these tests involve thin, flexible, hollow tubes with a small video camera that allow your doctor to view the area and sample tissue and lymph nodes. These include:

  • Bronchoscopy: To see if cancer of the upper esophagus has spread to the windpipe or airways leading to the lungs. 
  • Laparoscopy: To see if cancer is present in the abdominal cavity. 
  • Laryngoscopy: To see if cancer has affected your voice box. 
  • Thoracoscopy: To see if cancer is present around the esophagus in the chest cavity. 

Genetic Tumor Profiling

The John Theurer Cancer Center takes a precision medicine approach to treating esophageal  cancer. If your tissue sample is cancerous, our laboratory performs molecular analysis. The result is a genetic tumor profile of your esophageal cancer that allows us to understand your cancer’s unique biology, how aggressive it is and how you will likely respond to treatment. 

Your care team uses your genetic tumor profile to design a unique treatment plan that has the best chance of success. We also can identify clinical trials targeted to your precise type of esophageal cancer.

 
 

Esophageal Cancer Treatment Options

From leading-edge surgery to medical treatments not available anywhere else, John Theurer Cancer Center offers today’s most advanced treatments for esophageal cancer. Learn More

Why Choose John Theurer Cancer Center for Esophageal Cancer Treatment?

Nationally Recognized

  • U.S. News & World Report has recognized John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center as a premier cancer center in New Jersey. 
  • Our thoracic surgeons earned a “High Performing” hospital rating for Hackensack University Medical Center by U.S. News & World Report.

Clinical Trials and Research

  • You have access to clinical trials that offer hope if your esophageal cancer returns, spreads, is unable to be surgically removed, or does not respond to standard treatments.
  • John Theurer Cancer Center conducts hundreds of clinical trials and is the top enroller of patients in Phase 1 clinical trials in New Jersey. Our Research Programs
  • As part of the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center — a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center —our team offers some of the nation’s most promising Phase I, II and III clinical trials. Find a Clinical Trial
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