Facts about Esophageal and Stomach Cancers


Our upper gastrointestinal tract includes our stomach and esophagus, which are both susceptible to the development of cancer. Every year, there are about 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer and 25,000 new cases of stomach cancer that will be diagnosed in the United States, estimated by the American Cancer Society. Some common contributing factors to the development of these cancers include family history, poor diet, and the use of substances like tobacco and alcohol. Upper GI cancers can affect any gender or age range, but are more common in those over the age of 55. Patients who have a history of damage to the lower portion of their esophagus commonly referred to as Barrett’s esophagus may be at a higher risk.


Screening for stomach and esophageal cancers are not typically recommended since most early warning signs of developing cancer are minor gastrointestinal symptoms that can also be caused by other, less serious conditions.




Early Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

The early signs and symptoms of developing cancer of the esophagus typically affect the process of eating or digestion, leading to a behavioral change in diet or appetite. Some warning signs are:


• Difficult Or Painful Swallowing

• Pain In The Chest

• Sudden Or Unexplained Weight Loss

• Chronic Coughing

• Blood In The Esophagus


If you notice any of these change or symptoms, or any discomfort around the area of your esophagus, contact a doctor to schedule an appointment. Your doctor will examine the symptoms and determine if the cause is cancer, and if treatment is necessary.


Early Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer is very difficult to detect early, since most symptoms can be caused by many more common and harmless stomach issues, or even ignored in some cases since the symptoms are very minor. However, if the symptoms that a patient experience appear to be chronic, persisting for a long period of time, it is more likely that it could be stomach cancer as the cause. Common early symptoms include:


• Little Or No Appetite

• Sudden Or Unexplained Weight Loss

• Dull, “Gnawing” Pain In The Stomach

• Blood In Vomit Or Stool

• Bloating, Diarrhea, & Constipation


It’s important to note that these may be symptoms for other conditions, so consult with your doctor for diagnosis and testing.



The recommended type of treatment for patients with stomach or esophageal cancer will vary, depending on the stage and type of cancer, and the patient’s overall health. The common treatments used for upper GI cancers are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Some patients will receive a combination of treatments to enhance the effectiveness of treatment or improve cure rates.



External beam radiation therapy is the most common form of radiation treatment used for stomach and esophageal cancers. This form of therapy involves the use of an external machine which creates powerful beams of radiation that can be targeted with a high degree of precision. Administered by a radiation oncologist, the beam will be aimed at the cancer-affected area of the patient.


When radiation comes into contact with a cancer cell, it prevents the cell from continuing to multiply and spread to other parts of the body. Also, the radiation causes damage which eventually kills off the cell, since cancer cells cannot regenerate. The treatment does also affect a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue, but healthy cells are able to effectively regenerate over time as the patient goes through a short period of recovery.


The duration and frequency of treatment that a patient will receive vary s on a case to case basis. The doctor will determine the details of treatment based on the patient’s needs.



As patients receive treatment for stomach and esophageal cancers, the side effects that surface can vary on a case to case basis. The possible side effects will depend on the type of treatment received, and can be difficult to predict especially if a patient is receiving multiple treatments. Ask your doctor what side effects you can possibly expect from your treatment.


Most side effects that result from treatment can be managed with diet adjustments or medication. If you experience any side effects, let your doctor or nurse know and they will be able to assist you in getting relief and managing the symptoms.



Esophageal Cancer Awareness Association



No Stomach for Cancer



Also see Helpful Links



Download a helpful brochure from www.rtanswers.org

*Content provided by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, www.rtanswers.org , and the American Cancer Society.