Ann Richards, the former Texas governor, recently died from complications arising from esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is one of the fastest-rising forms of cancer and, unfortunately, it is rarely diagnosed early. The form of cancer which killed Ann Richards, squamous cell, is often associated with a history of heavy tobacco and alcohol use – both were a part of Ann Richards’ medical history. In addition to a history of alcohol and tobacco use, patients with chronic heart burn – or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are at a higher risk for esophageal cancer.
The best way to screen for esophageal cancer is with an endoscopy. During an endoscopy, the patient is sedated while a lighted tube is passed down the throat to look for changes which might signal cancer. The procedure costs about $1,000 and many health insurance policies pay for the procedure. Early diagnosis of esophageal cancer makes a dramatic difference in survival because patients can qualify for surgical removal of the esophagus and surrounding lymph nodes. A recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found a 81% five year survival rate for those patient’s whose esophageal cancer was diagnosed in the early stages.
The lesson: request an endoscopy to screen for esophageal cancer if you are 50 or older and have the risk factors listed above.