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Early Treatment is Key to Resolving Esophageal Cancer

Are you at risk for esophageal cancer? No one really knows what causes esophageal cancer. We do know that long-term reflux (GERD) can cause changes in the cells in the lower end of the esophagus. This condition is called Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition. If these cells are left untreated, there is a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer due to these cancerous cells.

Multidisciplinary Team Approach to Care

Every patient’s care is unique at VCU Health. At VCU Health Department of Digestive Health, you will consult with a board-certified gastroenterologist, as well as other specialists including nurses, nurse practitioners, endocrinologists, radiologists and social workers. This team will evaluate you and provide the best treatment options, including education about digestive health issues and our method of treating it. With our expert team, we work together to inform you of the different treatment options and help you make the important decisions that meet your care goals.

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

Risk factors are those factors that can increase the risk for esophageal cancer. Some risk factors can be controlled such as tobacco use and diet. Other risk factors cannot be controlled such as age and gender. Risk factors include the following:

  • Age: The risk for esophageal cancer increases with age, with people over the age of 60 being at greatest risk for developing esophageal cancer.
  • Alcohol use: Chronic and/or long-term heavy drinking is another major risk factor for esophageal cancer.
  • Barrett’s esophagus: Long-term irritation from reflux, commonly known as heartburn, changes the cells at the end of the esophagus. This condition is precancerous condition and raises the risk of developing adenocarcinoma of the esophagus.
  • Diet: Diets low in fruits and vegetables, including certain vitamins and minerals, can increase the risk for esophageal cancer.
  • Gender: Men have three times the risk of developing esophageal cancer than women.
  • Medical history: Certain diseases increase the risk of esophageal cancer, including achalasia, a disease in which the bottom of the esophagus does not open to release food into the stomach, and a rare inherited disease called tylosis. In addition, anyone who has had other head and neck cancers has an increased chance of developing a second cancer in this area, which includes esophageal cancer.
  • Other irritants: Swallowing caustic irritants such as lye or other substances can burn and destroy cells in the esophagus. The scarring and damage done to the esophagus can put a person at greater risk for developing cancer.
  • Tobacco use: Using any form of tobacco raises the risk of esophageal cancer. The longer tobacco is used, the greater the risk - with the greatest risk among people who have indulged in long-term drinking with tobacco use. Scientists believe that these substances increase each other’s harmful effects, making people who drink and use tobacco especially susceptible to developing the disease.

Conditions We Treat

The Department of Digestive Health has two main sections:

  • One section offers services to treat all benign and malignant esophageal and gastric (foregut) diseases, surgical management of obesity, abdominal wall hernias and biliary
  • The other section offers care for all colon and rectal diseases 

For all foregut diseases, we provide comprehensive, multidisciplinary and expert surgical and endoscopic care for the treatment of the following:

  • Barrett’s esophagus
  • Esophageal achalasia 
  • Esophageal and gastric cancer
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Gastroparesis
  • Paraesophageal hiatal hernias

Accuracy in Diagnosis Results in Best Therapeutic Decisions

We work in close collaboration with our colleagues in Gastroenterology, Radiology, Endocrinology and other specialties at VCU Health to provide the latest technology and a true multidisciplinary view of the problem at hand. This supports greater accuracy in diagnosis and superior therapeutic decisions for all foregut diseases.