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Bad news

This morning: a 2-line e-mail, letting me know what's wrong with Best Friend's brother. He's been in and out of hospital since November, wasting away. Now they've put a name to it: oesophagal cancer.

He's been scheduled for surgery on the 25th.



Jan. 21st, 2006 11:15 pm (UTC)
It's cancer of the oesophagus, or 'the muscular membranous tube for the passage of food from the pharynx to the stomach; the gullet.'

Thefollowing is gleaned from the Internet:

What are the symptoms of cancer of the oesophagus?

The first symptom of the disease is almost always difficulty in swallowing. There is the feeling that food is getting stuck, often behind the lower end of the breastbone. At first the problem is only with solid food but later even semi-solids and liquids can cause problems.

Pain felt between the shoulder blades can also be troublesome. This discomfort is sometimes triggered by eating.

Another characteristic symptom is regurgitating unaltered food a few minutes after having difficulty swallowing the food. The patient often tries to handle these problems by eating less and avoiding solid food. This causes weight loss and fatigue.

Later on, heartburn, vomiting, and vomiting of blood may become the dominant symptoms. The early symptoms are relatively minor and tend to creep up on patients. This means it is often several months before they consult their doctors.

How is cancer of the oesophagus treated?

Treatment may consist of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy or a combination of these. The best chance of cure is with surgery. Patients who are in good general condition and who have small tumours, have more than a 25 per cent chance of cure with surgery.

In fit patients with more advanced disease, then the combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy may be used - this can produce cure rates of around 20 per cent.

Unfortunately the majority of patients are not fit for intensive treatment of this type. In their case treatment will be aimed simply at relieving symptoms. This can sometimes be done most easily using a stent.

A stent is simply a kind of tube that is inserted inside the gullet to help keep it open and allow the passage of fluid and food.

There are various kinds available, ranging from a simple plastic tube to a device made of metal mesh that expands once it has been put in place. Stents can be put in place as a simple procedure at the same time as an endoscopy is carried out.

Radiotherapy can also be used to try and shrink the tumour and keep the gullet open for longer.

What is the prognosis?

Overall, the outlook is very poor. The five-year survival rate for cancer of the oesophagus is less than 10 per cent. But patients who are fit enough for intensive treatment may fare rather better with cure rates of 20 per cent or more.