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What Is Esophageal Cancer?

The main symptoms of esophageal cancer are difficulty swallowing and weight loss, and sometimes there is pain upon swallowing. Smoking and drinking are the most important risk factors for esophageal cancer. Most esophageal cancer patients are male. Esophageal cancer is prone to have extensive local invasion and lymph node metastasis, with distant metastasis to the lungs, liver, and other organs. In patients with esophageal cancer who have symptoms and seek treatment, most were already in advanced stages of the disease.

Treatment of Esophageal Cancer

The primary methods of treatment for esophageal cancer are surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The choice of treatment depends on the tumor stage and the condition of the patient. In early esophageal cancer, it can be surgically cured. If the patient is not suitable for operation or does not want to receive surgery, radiation therapy (combined with chemotherapy is preferred) may be a treatment choice. Management of advanced esophageal cancer is more complicated and a combination of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy is strongly recommended. In addition, if the patient’s condition is not suitable for chemotherapy, radiation therapy alone could be considered for the relief of local symptoms.

Radiotherapy for Esophageal Cancer

Radiation therapy can be used for almost all stages of esophageal cancer. It employs X-ray treatment or proton therapy, through well-designed treatment planning, administering high doses to the tumor and regional lymph nodes. With the advance of radiotherapy technology, such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT), and Rapid Arc, the side effects are reduced. Due to the physical characteristics of the proton, proton therapy can reduce unnecessary doses of radiation to the normal tissues, can improve the quality of radiation therapy, and can reduce the doses of radiation to the heart and the lungs, thereby reducing the side effects of radiation therapy.

Article author: Dr. Tsung-Min Hong