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Esophageal cancer is found in the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. It can occur at any point on that route and will be treated differently depending on its location and severity.
While the treatment for esophageal cancer has changed drastically over the decades, recent trends have seen the treatment options shift from highly invasive and destructive procedures to more minimally invasive procedures designed to uphold the patient's health and well-being throughout treatment.
Treatment Options for Various Types of Esophageal Cancer
Over the last several decades, adenocarcinoma (a type of esophageal cancer near the stomach) has become more widespread.
Unfortunately, because of the widespread availability of over-the-counter acid reflux medications, patients may not ever know they have this type of cancer and may write their chronic acid reflux off as nothing to worry about.
Cancer can present very few or no symptoms, so in most cases, patients with esophageal cancer don't know they have the disease until it's in an advanced stage. In many instances, esophageal cancer is diagnosed by accident when it has reached an advanced stage. At one point the only available treatment for late stage patients was a highly invasive" open case" treatment which involve large incisions in the abdominal and chest cavities), with a 50 percent risk of complications and chronic pain.
Fortunately, minimally invasive procedures are available that offer minimal pain, fast healing and the ability to go home and eat normally, rather than through feeding tubes.
Procedures for Early-Stage Patients
On the other hand, patients with very early-stage cancers can avoid to the removal of their esophagus, and instead only remove a portion of the tissue around the cancer, leaving the remainder of the stomach and esophagus without damaging the nerves or the valve that prevents reflux.
On the other hand, patients with later stages will need to remove more extensive amounts of tissue including the nerves to the stomach. While patients will have reflux and potential long-term stomach issues, it is a life-saving procedure for many.
Patients who have had previous open operations will still be able to access minimally invasive approaches, although it may take longer and be more challenging because of scar tissue.
What Minimally Invasive Options Mean for Patient Care
Minimally invasive surgery is the preferred, and often the best option vs. an open method. In addition to providing a faster healing time, minimally invasive procedures may offer a better cancer outcome than more invasive open approaches. Though doctors aren't exactly sure why this is true, it could be attributed to the fact that minimally invasive procedures minimize damage and are less stressful on the body during recovery.
It should be noted that minimally invasive surgical options are not the right course of action for all esophageal cancer patients. However, they can go a long way toward minimizing damage and expediting the healing process for these patients.
While further treatment options are sure to be developed in coming years, the current treatment options show great promise to patients and their families who are struggling through the murky waters of esophageal cancer and its many invasive and minimally invasive treatment options.
Between better outcomes and faster recovery times, it's easy to see why minimally invasive treatment options are becoming so popular among patients today.