Causes, symptoms of esophageal cancer

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THIS month marks men’s month for cancer awareness the world over and Zimbabwe will in turn hold awareness campaigns around the country. National men’s health week was established in 1994 in the Senate and House of Representatives in America to show how diagnostic and screening tests can save lives. The Patriot spoke to Tafadzwa Chigariro, the knowledge manager from the Cancer Centre in Zimbabwe. Esophageal cancer and oral health were elaborated among other issues. The choice of this type of cancer, despite being found in both sexes, is that it affects more men than women as statistics will show. There is compelling evidence to show that cancers of the digestive system are on the increase in Zimbabwe, as in other parts of the world. These include cancer of the esophagus, liver, pancreas, stomach and bowels. The increase is attributed to the adoption of cancer-associated lifestyle choices including smoking, physical inactivity, and ‘Westernised’ diets. “Of late, more medical professionals are advocating less dependence on Western diets to traditional ones,” said Chigariro. Esophageal cancer is three to four times more common among males than females. According to a World Health Organisation project, GLOBOCAN, 2008, an estimated 482 300 new Esophageal cancer cases and 406 800 deaths occurred in 2008 worldwide. Esophageal cancer is attributed to six percent of cancer mortality in Zimbabwe in 2006 (National Cancer Registry Statistics). Esophageal cancer The esophagus, also known as the gullet, is a long muscular tube, which connects your throat to your stomach. It is at least 30cm long in adults, and carries food, which has been swallowed to your stomach by means of muscular contractions. A tumour either cancerous or non-cancerous can occur anywhere along the length of your esophagus. Doctors consider the esophagus in three sections — upper, mid and lower — when diagnosing and treating cancer. Causes and risk factors of esophageal cancer Like most if not all cancers, the actual cause of esophageal cancer is not known. There, however, are known risk factors, which include: l Age — it is more common in older people. l Sex — it is more common in men than women. l Heredity. l Poor diet (low fruits and vegetables, lacking in vitamin A and C, preserved foods, heavily seasoned foods). l Overweight and obesity. l Smoking and chewing tobacco, including smokeless tobacco. l Drinking beverages at high temperatures. l Excessive alcohol intake. l Environmental factors and chemical exposure to certain chemicals. l Long-term acid reflux (heartburn) — this is the back flow of the stomach contents up towards the mouth. l Human papilloma virus (HPV). Esophageal Cancer Symptoms There are many signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, the disease is often diagnosed when it has advanced, limiting treatment options. When asked why this was so, the knowledge officer said most people hardly came for check-ups until they got sick. The symptoms to note include: 1. Unintentional weight loss. 2. Pain and or difficulty swallowing that does not go away is one of the most common symptoms of esophageal cancer. The throat feels irritated or with pressure. This symptom is not associated with flu or flu related illnesses. 3. Hoarseness, voice is hoarse, or you feel like you have to often clear your throat. 4. Persistent cough. 5. Heartburn, it is defined as pain or burning sensation behind the breast bone. 6. Feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest. In certain cases of esophageal cancer, the esophagus narrows, thus reducing the amount of space foods have to travel down to the stomach. 7. Hiccups with pain or difficulty swallowing. Others symptoms l Pain or discomfort behind the breastbone or in the back. l There may be acid indigestion. l Loss of appetite and fatigue. “Many of these symptoms can be caused by a condition other than cancer, but one should always consult a medical professional doctor,” said Chigariro.

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