Wed, Dec 05, 2018 - Page 2 News List

Deaths raise esophageal cancer awareness

By Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff writer, with CNA

A Taipei surgeon has advised the public to look out for three major risk factors of esophageal cancer following the deaths on Sunday of actor Lin Fu-chin (林富進) — better known by his stage name Andy (安迪) — and on Monday of Yulon Group chairman Kenneth Yen (嚴凱泰).

Esophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Taiwanese men, Lee Jang-ming (李章銘), the convener of the esophageal cancer treatment team at the National Taiwan University Hospital, said on Monday.

It has a prevalence rate of 14 to 15 cases per 100,000 people, with about 2,400 new cases being reported per year on average, he said.

It is especially common in people aged over 50, and more than 90 percent of those who are diagnosed are men, he said.

Esophageal cancer is a malignant tumor of the esophagus and is mainly triggered by long-term irritation and repeated inflammation of the mucous membrane in the esophagus, Lee said.

Because of the length of the esophagus, its direct relation to a person’s ability to swallow, and its proximity to the major blood vessels, the heart, the spine and other vital organs, once a malignant tumor grows inside the esophagus, it is not only difficult to remove it completely, but the risk of the cancer spreading is also relatively high, he said.

As there are almost no symptoms in the early stages of the disease, about 80 percent of the patients do not seek medical help until the tumor is already blocking the esophagus and they have difficulty swallowing, he said.

By then, the cancer has already entered the middle or late stage, or even spread to other organs, he said.

In the other 20 percent of cases in which patients were diagnosed at an early stage, the cancer was typically detected after a routine physical or a test for gastrointestinal hemorrhage, Lee said.

The five-year survival rate of people with stage one or stage two esophageal cancer is about 80 to 90 percent, he said.

As advances in the treatment of esophageal cancer has been relatively slow, most third-stage patients still rely on a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.

Smoking and drinking are the two main risk factors for esophageal cancer, Lee said.

The WHO has also listed soup or beverages hotter than 58oC as a carcinogen, he said, advising people to wait for the liquid to cool if it feels hot to the tongue.

People who smoke, drink alcohol, have chronic acid reflux or have been diagnosed with head and neck cancer or oral cancer should routinely screen for esophageal cancer after the age of 45, he added.

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