Esophageal cancer

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Non-cancerous tumours and conditions of the esophagus

A non-cancerous, or benign, tumour of the esophagus is a growth that does not invade or destroy normal cells and does not spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. A non-cancerous condition is a change to esophagus cells, but it is not cancer. Non-cancerous tumours and conditions are not usually life-threatening. They are typically removed by surgery and do not usually come back (recur).

There are a few non-cancerous tumours and conditions of the esophagus.

Leiomyoma

Leiomyomas are the most common non-cancerous tumours of the esophagus. They are slow growing and can sometimes turn into cancerous tumours.

Leiomyomas are made up of smooth muscle cells and are usually found in the lower two-thirds of the esophagus. These non-cancerous tumours usually occur as one growth inside the esophagus, but sometimes more than one tumour can develop.

Symptoms of leiomyoma include difficulty swallowing, pain in the chest (behind the breast bone) and bringing up undigested food (called regurgitation).

Tests to diagnose leiomyoma include upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, upper GI endoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). Find out more about these tests and procedures.

If a leiomyoma is small or it isn’t causing symptoms, doctors may follow it closely to see if it develops before they offer treatments. If the tumour is bigger than 5 cm or it causes symptoms, doctors will use surgery to remove it.

Cysts

Two types of cysts can develop in the esophagus:

 

Simple cysts are fluid-filled sacs that develop from the mucosa, or inner lining, of the esophagus.

 

Esophageal duplication is when part of the submucosa (the middle layer of the esophagus) and the muscularis propria (the muscle layer of the esophagus) form an extra layer of submucosa and muscle.

These cysts can develop anywhere along the esophagus. In rare cases, they can turn into cancerous tumours.

Symptoms of esophageal cysts can include tightness or pain in the chest (behind the breast bone), difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing or irregular heartbeat.

Tests to diagnose esophageal cysts include chest x-ray, CT scan, upper GI endoscopy and endoscopic ultrasound (EUS).

Esophageal cysts are usually removed with surgery, if needed.

Esophageal webs and rings

Esophageal webs and rings are the most common non-cancerous condition of the esophagus. They do not usually develop into cancer.

Esophageal webs are thin membranes that form across the esophagus. They are made up of the mucosa and submucosa layers of tissue. Esophageal webs can occur anywhere in the esophagus, but they develop most often in the upper part.

Esophageal rings are circles of tissue that can make the esophagus narrow. An esophageal ring is made up of mucosa, submucosa and muscle. Esophageal rings can occur anywhere in the esophagus, but they usually develop in the lower part. Sometimes more than one ring develops.

Esophageal webs and rings do not usually cause symptoms. When they do cause symptoms, the most common complaint is difficulty swallowing.

Tests to diagnose webs and rings include upper gastrointestinal (GI) series and upper GI endoscopy.

Esophageal webs and rings usually don’t need to be treated, unless they cause symptoms. Sometimes doctors will stretch the esophagus, which is called esophageal dilation. Esophageal dilation is done using an endoscope. The doctor passes a dilator down the throat to stretch the narrowed part of the esophagus. There are different types of dilators. Some dilators are flexible tubes. The doctor can use a series of bigger and bigger tubes to open the esophagus. Other types of dilators use a balloon to open the esophagus. Surgery is rarely needed to remove esophageal webs or rings.

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