Esophageal cancer is often detected at a late stage, because symptoms are not clear early on, Taiwan Society for Chest Care chairman Lee Chang-ming (李章銘) said on Saturday, urging people to consume less pickled vegetables, cured meat and boiling hot soup.
Lee, a thoracic surgeon at National Taiwan University Hospital, made the remarks at the society’s lecture in Taipei to raise awareness on esophageal cancer and treatment.
There are about 2,400 esophageal cancer cases reported in the nation each year, of which more than 90 percent involve male patients, Lee said, adding that the disease ranked fifth among deaths caused by cancer in men.
Most esophageal tumors do not cause symptoms until they have developed enough to narrow the esophagus, making it difficult for the person to swallow food, so they are often discovered at a more advanced stage, he said.
“Smoking, drinking alcohol and chewing betel nuts are three significant risk factors in the development of esophageal cancer,” Lee said.
“Smoking is a clear risk factor, drinking alcohol can irritate and damage esophageal mucosa, and chewing betel nuts, which have carcinogens, can also damage the esophagus,” he said.
People who have these habits are about 20 to 30 times more at risk of developing esophageal cancer in their lifetime than people who do not have them, he added.
In addition, studies have suggested that drinking boiling hot soup or beverages can cause damage to the esophagus and increase the risk of esophageal cancer, Lee said.
People should also avoid consuming preserved foods — such as pickled vegetables, fermented bean curd, sausages and cured meat — as much as possible, as they might also increase the risk of developing cancers, he said.
As most cases are discovered at an advanced stage, the overall five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer was less than 20 percent, but due to advancements in treatment methods over the past few years, the survival rate has increased to more than 40 percent, he added.
People who smoke, drink regularly or chew betel nut should have a gastrointestinal endoscopy performed at least once per year, Lee said, adding that the best way to prevent cancer is to change lifestyle — quitting bad habits, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and avoiding foods that are too hot.
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