What Is Metastatic Esophageal Cancer?

Mark Wollacott

Metastatic esophageal cancer is a late-stage evolution of a cancer affecting the esophagus. Metastatic is also known as metastasis and is the stage of the cancer where cancerous cells have spread from the original cancer to a different, non-adjacent, part of the body. Esophageal cancer is often a devastating disease with a poor prognosis, but there are options for treatment if caught early enough.

Surgery, followed by radiation and chemotherapy, may be the course of treatment for a patient with metastatic esophageal cancer.
Surgery, followed by radiation and chemotherapy, may be the course of treatment for a patient with metastatic esophageal cancer.

The esophagus is otherwise known as the gullet. It runs from the pharynx at the top of the throat down to the stomach sphincter, which protects the esophagus from stomach acids. While theoretically, food and water moves one way, phenomena such as heartburn and vomiting sometimes send substances in the opposite direction.

Chemotherapy is typically a treatment option for metastatic esophageal cancer.
Chemotherapy is typically a treatment option for metastatic esophageal cancer.

Early symptoms of metastatic esophageal cancer are few. This is one of the main reasons why the cancer has such a poor prognosis. Most obvious symptoms only become apparent when the cancer is in its later stages.

Radiotherapy, such as with a linear accelerator, might be used to help treat metastatic esophageal cancer.
Radiotherapy, such as with a linear accelerator, might be used to help treat metastatic esophageal cancer.

The most common symptom is a difficulty swallowing known as dysphagia. This can also be accompanied by pain related to swallowing known as odynophagia. Both symptoms lead the patient towards soft and liquid foods rather than tough solids such as meat and bread. Considerable weight loss and a loss of appetite also become apparent. Other symptoms include a hoarse cough, nausea and vomiting, but these other symptoms are easily confused with other diseases.

Men over 60 with a history of the condition in the family are most likely to develop metastatic esophageal cancer. Chances of developing the cancer are increased through certain lifestyle choices such as smoking and high levels of alcohol consumption. Several diseases such as Plummer-Vinson Syndrome and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) also increase chances. GERD causes damage to the esophagus when the inner lining is affected by leaking stomach acids.

Several treatments for metastatic esophageal cancer are available. Surgery can remove a section of the esophagus by pulling the remainder up, including a portion of the stomach. Short-term survival rates are good for surgery when complemented by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, however, the development of metastasis greatly reduces survival rates. This development reduces survival rates to just 3 percent over five years.

The presence of metastasis reduces the likelihood of surgery. This is because the full extent of cancer development needs to be assessed. Lymph nodes are the most likely cause of cancerous spread from the esophagus. It is unknown how likely a cancer cell in the esophagus is likely to lead to metastatic esophageal cancer. Surgery is still possible as a means of treatment, along with chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy.

Metastatic esophageal cancer generally has a poor prognosis.
Metastatic esophageal cancer generally has a poor prognosis.

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