Esophageal Cancer Prevention
Esophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in your esophagus, the long tube that passes food from your throat to your stomach. Esophageal cancer often begins in the cells that form the lining of your esophagus. Although the cancer can occur anywhere within your esophagus, it’s more common in the United States for it to appear in the lower portion, where the esophagus connects to the stomach. Also, more men get esophageal cancer than women.
There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Cancer that develops from squamous cells can appear along your entire esophagus. Adenocarcinoma cancer develops from gland cells that replace damaged squamous cells in your lower esophagus. Most likely, the damage was caused by exposure to too much stomach acid and chronic reflux is a risk factor for this condition. Screening with upper endoscopy when recommended in appropriate patients can be an important tool for esophageal cancer prevention.
Why You May Need Esophageal Cancer Screening
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as heartburn, can have serious repercussions if it is chronic and untreated. GERD can lead to a host of medical issues including difficulty swallowing, Barrett’s esophagus (sometimes a pre-cancerous condition), ulcers and esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is the seventh leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Patient’s with chronic reflux or other risk factors may need screening for barrett’s esophagus with an upper endoscopy by a gastroenterologist for full evaluation and treatment to rule out a more serious underlying condition.
If you suffer from frequent heartburn and have any of these other symptoms, make an appointment to see one of our doctors in our Upper East Side or Midtown NYC gastroenterology offices for an evaluation:
- Chest pain
- Hoarse voice
- Painful cough
- Unexplained weight loss
- Difficulty Swallowing
Catching the disease early increases your chances of surviving the cancer exponentially. Early-stage cancer is treatable, but in the early stages, the cancer often shows no symptoms. Esophageal cancer prevention can therefore save your life.
Evaluation for Esophageal Cancer or Barrett’s Esophagus Screening
The first step to prevention is to determine the current condition of your esophagus. To accomplish this, one of our doctors has to visually examine your esophagus for damage. One way to do this is through an upper endoscopy. The advantage of an upper endoscopy test is that it gives the doctor the ability to collect a biopsy or tissue sample.
For the best results and the safest procedure, you should start with an empty stomach. Don’t eat or drink anything, including water, for 6–12 hours before your procedure. The doctor will tell you exactly when to start fasting, as the timing can vary.
Tell the doctor about any medications you’re currently taking, particularly insulin, aspirin products or antiplatelet agents, anticoagulants (such as blood thinners like warfarin or heparin), arthritis medications, iron supplements or clopidogrel. Also discuss any medication allergies you may have, as well as any medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease.
You should continue to take your medications as usual unless the doctor specifically informs you not to. Some medications can interfere with your preparation or with the examination, so he/she may ask you to adjust your normal dosage before your procedure.
Upper Endoscopy used for Esophageal Cancer Screening
For an upper endoscopy procedure, our anesthesiologist will give you anesthesia to help you relax. Then you’ll lie on your side.
Once you’re sedated or relaxed, our doctor passes the endoscope through your mouth, into your esophagus and to your stomach, if necessary. Since the endoscope doesn’t interfere with your breathing, you may feel only slight discomfort. Many patients, in fact, fall asleep during the procedure.
Our doctor also can use upper endoscopy to collect a biopsy. They’ll send the sample to a laboratory to distinguish between benign (or non-cancerous) tissues and malignant (or cancerous) tissues.
If our doctor doesn’t find any malignant tissue in your esophagus, they can discuss with you the diet and lifestyle changes that will help prevent cancer from appearing. If they find a condition like Barrett’s esophagus, they can take the necessary steps to ensure that cancer doesn’t develop and put you on an appropriate surveillance program.
Recovering from Upper Endoscopy used for Esophageal Cancer Screening
After the procedure, your recovery will be monitored while you wait for the medications to wear off. Your throat may feel a little sore, and the air introduced into your stomach during the procedure can cause you to feel slightly bloated. These are both minor and temporary conditions.
You can eat after the procedure unless your doctor tells you otherwise. They’ll explain what they found in your esophagus during the exam, although you likely will have to wait for the laboratory results of any biopsy.
If you’ve received sedatives, you must have a responsible friend or relative drive you home and stay with you for several hours. Even if you feel alert, your judgment and reflexes may be impaired for the rest of the day.
Upper endoscopy Complications
Complications are rare, especially when trained and experienced gastroenterologists like the doctors of Gastroenterology in New York performs the procedure. A perforation or tear in your gastrointestinal tract lining that may require surgery is extremely rare and unlikely.
Other complications are minor. You can experience minor bleeding where a biopsy was taken. This bleeding may last for a few days, but it’s nothing to worry about.
You should contact your doctor immediately if you have a fever after the test, have trouble swallowing, experience increasing throat, chest or abdominal pain or if you notice any prolonged bleeding, including internal bleeding that reveals itself in black stools.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only trained, experienced physicians like our doctors can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
As best in class NYC gastroenterologists, our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. Their philosophies regarding the doctor/patient relationship is based on trust and has earned them some of the most respected reputations in NYC.
For more information about esophageal cancer prevention or to schedule a consultation with our GI doctors, please contact our NYC office.