Esophageal & Stomach Cancer

Know More: Esophageal & Stomach Cancer

Trustworthy information, straight from the source. Education is the first step in an empowering healthcare plan. Learn more about esophageal & stomach cancer from prevention to diagnosis and treatment.

Cancer consultation between patient and doctor

Condition Overview

What is esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer starts in the cells that line the esophagus.

What increases my risk for esophageal cancer?

  • Alcohol use
  • Smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco
  • Barrett esophagus
  • High-fat foods such as in fried foods, chips and some pork or beef dishes
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease

What is stomach cancer?

Most stomach cancer starts in the cells that line the stomach but may form anywhere in the stomach. It is also called gastric cancer.

What increases my risk for stomach cancer?

  • You are 60 years of age or older
  • Regularly eating smoked, salt-cured or pickled foods such as bacon, ham or corned beef
  • Not eating many fruits or vegetables
  • Overweight or obesity
  • A family history of colon cancer
  • A stomach condition, such as stomach ulcers caused by bacteria
  • Stomach surgery
  • Cigarette smoking

Diagnosis & Treatment Options

What are the signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer?

You may not have any signs and symptoms at first but you may develop more than one of the following over time:

  • Difficult or painful swallowing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest or stomach pain or discomfort
  • Bloody bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss without trying

How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?

  • Barium swallow: is an X-ray of your esophagus and stomach. You will drink a white chalky liquid called barium to help your esophagus show up better on an X-ray.
  • CT scan or MRI: A CT scan or MRI may show cancer and if it has spread. You may be given a contrast liquid to drink that will help the cancer show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • Endoscopy: is used to examine the lining of your esophagus, stomach and part of your small intestine. Your healthcare provider uses a small tube with a camera on the end.
  • Biopsy: may be used to take a sample of tissue from your esophagus to be tested for cancer.

How is esophageal cancer treated?

  • Surgery may be needed to remove part of your esophagus or lymph nodes. This may help stop the cancer from spreading.
  • Chemotherapy is used to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumor or lymph nodes before surgery. Once the tumor is smaller, surgery can be done to remove the cancer.
  • Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells with X-rays or gamma rays. Radiation may be given after surgery to kill cancer cells that were not removed. It may be given alone or with chemotherapy.

What are the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer?

  • Heartburn, nausea, vomiting or stomach pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling bloated or full even after a small meal
  • Trouble swallowing food
  • Blood in your vomit or bowel movement

How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

  • Blood tests: Blood tests may be used to check for anemia (lack of red blood cells). Stomach cancer can cause anemia to develop.
  • Stool sample: A bowel movement sample may be checked for blood.
  • X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan: An X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan may show the size and location of the tumor or if the cancer has spread. You may be given contrast liquid to help the tumor show up better. Tell your healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.
  • Barium: Barium is a substance that helps your stomach and intestines show up better in X-rays. You may need to eat a meal that has barium in it. An X-ray machine is then used to take pictures of your stomach. Healthcare providers watch the pictures to see how your stomach digests the meal.
  • Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a procedure used to find problems with how your digestive tract is working. A scope is used to see the inside of your digestive tract. A scope is a long, bendable tube with a light and camera on the end of it. Samples may be taken from your digestive tract and sent to a lab for tests. Small tumors may be removed and bleeding may be treated during an endoscopy.

How is stomach cancer treated?

  • Surgery called gastrectomy may be used to remove part or all of your stomach.
  • Chemotherapy medicine kills cancer cells and may also be used to shrink lymph nodes that contain cancer.
  • Radiation therapy uses X-rays or gamma rays to kill cancer cells and may stop the cancer from spreading.

Preparing for Care

What can I do to manage my cancer?

  • Do not smoke. Nicotine can damage blood vessels and make it more difficult to manage your esophageal cancer. Smoking also increases your risk for new or returning cancer and delays healing after treatment. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
  • Limit or do not drink alcohol. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks per day. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink per day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Eat healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats and fish. Take small bites, and chew your food well before you swallow. Be especially careful when you eat meat, fruits and vegetables. You may need to change what you eat during treatment. A dietitian may help to plan the best meals and snacks for you.
  • Drink liquids as directed. If you have nausea or diarrhea from cancer treatment, extra liquids may help decrease your risk for dehydration. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Exercise as directed. Exercise may help increase your energy level and appetite. Ask your healthcare provider how much exercise you need and which exercises are best for you.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your arm or leg feels warm, tender and painful. It may look swollen and red.
  • You suddenly feel lightheaded and short of breath.
  • You have chest pain when you take a deep breath or cough.
  • You cough up blood.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You vomit multiple times and cannot keep food or liquids down.
  • You feel you cannot cope with your illness.
  • You are bleeding from your mouth or nose.
  • You have pain that does not decrease or go away after you take your pain medicine.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

More Information about Esophageal & Stomach Cancer

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The Importance of Oral Cancer Screening