Tumours (abnormal growths) of the oesophagus (gullet or food-pipe) are either malignant (cancerous), or benign. For reasons that remain unclear, the current incidence of oesophageal cancer in Australia is growing faster than any other solid cancer. Only a small percentage of these tumours are benign (not cancerous).
The most common initial symptom of oesophageal tumours is difficulty swallowing (usually a sensation of food sticking behind the breast bone) or chest pain. Less common symptoms include weight loss, appetite loss or new onset heartburn. If you present with the above symptoms, a gastroscopy may be required.
If you have difficulty swallowing or the sensation of food getting stuck, this is almost always an abnormal symptom. If it happens more than once then it is important to see your GP for urgent assessment. Most of the time a gastroscopy is ordered.
Early oesophageal cancer diagnosis leads to better outcomes. Once a tumour in the oesophagus is found, it must be appropriately assessed to determine the type of tumour and therefore the most appropriate treatment.
Treatment options include removal with gastroscopy or surgery; Oesophagectomy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination of these.
Oesophageal cancers should be treated promptly, and it is important to have your treatment in a large centre with experience in the area and the required facilities to provide multidisciplinary care and the full range of treatment options. Many of these tumours are best treated with various combinations of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.