Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common cancer in the world, and is seen more in men than in women. The American Cancer Society estimates there will be about 17,290 new esophageal cancer diagnoses this year.
Esophageal cancer is one of the most common types of head and neck cancers, and it usually starts when there is an abnormal growth of cells in the esophagus. There are two types of cells that line the esophagus, so cancer in this part of the body can be either squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) or adenocarcinoma (AC). AC is usually found at the bottom of the esophagus near the stomach, while SCC is usually found in the middle or top part of the esophagus.
Symptoms include difficult or painful swallowing, weight loss, pain behind the breastbone, hoarseness and cough, indigestion, and heartburn. Unfortunately, these symptoms may appear when cancer is in advanced stages. When diagnosed with esophageal cancer, preventing malnutrition is key. Malnutrition is significantly linked with an increased risk of treatment toxicity and complications after surgery.
Risk factors for esophageal cancer:
Treatment for esophageal cancer depends on the tumor size, location, and cancer stage. Some patients undergo an esophagectomy where they remove some or most of the esophagus, followed by chemotherapy or chemoradiation. Others may receive chemotherapy and radiation before an esophagectomy. Proton beam therapy is an advanced form of radiation that can reduce side effects and improve quality of life for many patients with oral, head and neck cancers.
It is essential to meet your nutritional needs and avoid malnutrition as you prepare to begin treatment or undergo surgery. Maintaining your weight during radiation helps deliver treatment in the same place effectively. Some side effects that you may experience include fatigue, taste changes, dry mouth, difficult or painful swallowing, and inflammation of the mucous membranes lining the mouth and the esophagus. These symptoms may occur after a week of radiotherapy and could continue until about 2 – 3 weeks after treatment ends. It’s important to prevent esophageal irritation by limiting acidic, citric and spicy foods and beverages.
Below are some dietetic recommendations that may help you manage radiation side effects:
How to Prepare a Healthy Homemade Smoothie in Five Steps:
Karen Alexander, BSND, MSCN