A very common form of cancer, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus or gullet. This is the tube that undertakes the function of carrying the food from the throat to the stomach. It makes for an important part of the digestive system and cancerous cells can grow in any part of it. While cancers in the upper and middle part of the muscular tube develop from the cells that make up the inner lining of the esophagus, the lower part is affected when the cancer is triggered in the gland cells. The condition is commonly found to affect individuals in their older years, especially those above the age of 60 years. Also, women are at a higher risk of suffering from the same. Esophageal cancer is a major global challenge as it is recorded to be the sixth most common cause of cancer-related deaths around the globe.
One may not experience symptoms in the early stages as the tumor is small. However, as the tumor increases in size, the symptoms too begin to become more apparent. Some of the most common esophageal cancer symptoms include weight loss, persistent indigestion, heartburn, throat pain, pain in the breastbone, inability to swallow, and incessant coughing. These symptoms are also observed in many other diseases, making it difficult to detect the condition at first. The symptoms and treatment methods can take a toll on an individual’s lifestyle and thus it is important to effectively manage the same. Here are some symptoms and ways in which you can keep them in check:
Poor appetite: The change in the functions of the digestive system can lead to a poor appetite. There may be a loss in the sense of taste, and one begins to feel fuller more quickly. The soreness in the throat can further cause discomfort when eating and lead to drastic weight loss. Given below are helpful tips to manage this symptom.
- Small meals should be consumed throughout the day. Rather than 3 large meals, it is better to consume 5 small meals with short intervals in between. One should always carry healthy snacks with them.
- During cravings or hunger pangs, one should make the most and eat as much as possible. However, overeating must be avoided, as it can cause nausea.
- Apart from soups, liquids must be avoided at mealtimes.
- Meals should not be consumed too late in the night as it can cause an issue with digestion.
Difficulty swallowing: This symptom can continue to be an issue even during the treatment process. There may be coughing and pain even when chewing and swallowing light, slightly liquid foods. One can do the following to combat it:
- Food can be minced or pureed for a smoother consistency.
- Soft foods such as yogurt, ice-cream, avocado must be consumed regularly.
- Gravy and sauce must be added to the meals.
- Food can be washed down slowly with the help of small sips of fluids.
- Supplements must be added as part of the meals to meet the nutritional requirements.
Anemia: Anemia may be caused due to total or subtotal gastrostomy. The skin begins to look pale, one feels breathless and there is immense tiredness. Ways to manage this symptom are:
- The symptoms of anemia must be brought to the notice of the doctor and treated.
- It is essential to rest well and not overexert the body.
- Consumption of tea and coffee must be limited as it can further prevent effective absorption of iron.
- Foods that are high in iron and B vitamins should be consumed in abundance.
- In the case of smoking, effective measures must be taken to quit.
Choking: A common esophageal cancer symptom, many people may experience reflux due to the changes in digestive functions. These leads to severe heartburn, nausea and even discomfort in the chest. Choking and coughing while eating disrupt one’s ability to eat normally and they may feel like vomiting after every meal.
- Foods that are spicy, fatty, or high in citrus content should be avoided. The consumption of alcohol too must be cut back.
- Attention must be paid to carefully chew and swallow the food. It is best to avoid talking when eating. One should take a walk post eating to aid the digestive process.
- Bigger meals should be consumed earlier in the day while small snacks should be had in the evening. Eating heavy meals before going to bed can increase the risk of throwing up.
- The chest must be elevated higher than the abdomen when sleeping as lying flat can worsen the reflux.
- Solid foods should be avoided as they can get stuck in the throat and this increases the risk of choking.
Symptoms of esophagus cancer can make it difficult for one to cope emotionally as well. One may feel extremely self-conscious and these effects are natural. Talking and discussing the same with friends and family can help to a great extent. Furthermore, getting in touch with a counselor and discussing the esophageal symptoms can help one understand the best ways to adjust and adapt to the altered lifestyle.