Esophageal Cancer


Esophageal cancer is cancer that occurs in the esophagus — the tube that runs between your throat and your stomach. Your esophagus carries the food you swallow to your stomach to be digested. Esophageal cancer usually begins in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus, but can occur anywhere along the esophagus.

General Information

Esophageal cancer is not common in the United States. In other areas of the world, such as Asia and parts of Africa, esophageal cancer is much more prevalent. About half of the world’s cases occur in China, and it afflicts men three times more often than women. Other groups, such as the elderly and African Americans, are at a greater risk for developing esophageal cancer.

The two main types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. There are other less common types, too.

Esophageal adenocarcinoma is more common in the developed world. It arises from glandular cells present in the lower third of the esophagus, often where they have already transformed to an intestinal cell type (a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus). The most common causes of esophageal adenocarcinoma are tobacco smoking, obesity, and acid reflux.

Esophageal squamous-cell carcinoma occurs more often in the less developed areas of the world. It arises from the epithelial cells that line the esophagus. Causes frequently involve tobacco use and/or an inadequate diet.

Difficulty or pain with swallowing is a common symptom of esophageal cancer. Other symptoms may include a hoarse voice, enlarged lymph nodes around the collarbone, a dry cough, weight loss, and possibly, coughing up or vomiting blood.

The definitive test for esophageal cancer is esophagoscopy with visualization of the cancer and biopsy. Testing used to determine whether the cancer has spread includes a CT scan of the chest, abdomen and pelvis; a PET scan; a bone scan; and a bronchoscopy.

The main options for treatment of cancer of the esophagus include: surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and endoscopic treatments.

The prognosis for esophageal cancer is not good regardless of the treatment employed. When esophageal cancer is found very early, there is a better chance of recovery. Esophageal cancer often is at an advanced stage when it is diagnosed. At later stages, esophageal cancer can be treated but rarely cured.

Social Security Administration POMS DI 23022.155 — Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer meets Social Security Administration Medical Listing 13.16-A. To establish disability under the guidelines of this listing, you will need a medical diagnosis of carcinoma or sarcoma of the esophagus.

Esophageal cancer also is listed under the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) Compassionate Allowance Program, which was launched in 2008 to expedite certain disability claims. Applying for disability benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Program requires the same procedure every applicant must follow when applying for SSA disability benefits; however, you will be notified if your condition is being considered as a compassionate allowance.

Your representative may be able to expedite your disability claim if you have a diagnosis of esophageal cancer.