Oesophagus, cancer of

A malignant tumour, most common in people over 50, that mainly affects the middle or lower oesophagus and leads to swallowing difficulties. Smoking and heavy alcohol intake are risk factors. Symptoms progressively worsen to a point where food is immediately regurgitated and there is rapid weight loss. Regurgitated fluid spilling into the trachea often causes respiratory infections. Diagnosis is with a barium swallow (see barium X-ray examinations) and a biopsy taken during endoscopy. Removal of the oesophagus may be possible in some cases. Radiotherapy may cause regression of the cancer, relieve symptoms, and occasionally cure older patients who might not survive major surgery. Insertion of a rigid tube through the tumour, or laser treatment to burn through it, can help to relieve symptoms and improve nutrition. The overall outlook is poor, but is improved with early diagnosis.


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