Living With Esophageal Cancer
Daily life with esophageal cancer can be difficult due to complications and worry about your prognosis. Here are some ways to cope.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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If you've been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, you know what you're up against. You probably know the statistics and odds regarding a cure for the disease, and how they relate to the stage of your esophageal cancer and your prognosis. In addition to a treatment plan to try to rid your body of esophageal cancer, it's also important to keep yourself comfortable and in good emotional health in order to maintain a good quality of life.
Esophageal Cancer Complications: Pain and Discomfort
Esophageal cancer can cause a number of cancer symptoms that are uncomfortable at best, and painful at worst. There are ways that you can manage these common esophageal cancer complications, though. Try these suggestions:
- Change your diet.Often the biggest complaint among people with esophageal cancer is having difficulty swallowing, and therefore, problems with eating. Because of the tumor growing in the esophagus, it can become more and more difficult, even painful, to get food down your throat. Chewing all your food carefully, and eating slowly can help. You may even need to purèe some foods. Stick to foods that are easier to swallow, such as soups, broths, pudding, ice cream, and yogurt. Bread and meat may be the most difficult to swallow, so avoid those when you can.
- Treat your pain.Whatever your treatment plan includes, you should focus on alleviating the symptoms of esophageal cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery can all help to destroy esophageal cancer cells and alleviate symptoms. Shrinking the tumor can help ease choking, difficulty swallowing, and pain. Procedures to alleviate those symptoms are also available, such as stenting (the placement of a small tube to open the esophagus) and dilation (a small balloon that opens up the esophagus when inflated).
- Losing too much weight.Difficulty swallowing can lead to significant weight loss, which can lead to even more fatigue and energy loss. Try boosting your intake of easy-to-swallow, calorie-rich foods or use liquid nutritional supplements to help keep up your weight. Make sure to manage your esophageal cancer symptoms as best as possible so that eating is easier and so you can get the calories and nutrition you need to stay healthy and feel good.
- Metastasis of your cancer.Treatment may not always be the solution you're hoping for. When esophageal cancer metastasizes to other areas of the body, the main goal should be to stay as comfortable as possible. Prepare yourself for this possibility, and have a plan for what you would want to happen should this occur.
Esophageal Cancer: Emotional Treatment
No matter if your esophageal cancer prognosis is good or not so good, you'll probably consider the same consequences and have the same fears. It's important to face the emotional aspects of an esophageal cancer diagnosis, and talk about what's on your mind with other people. Fellow esophageal cancer patients and survivors can be a great resource during this difficult time; a support group can be a good way to connect with people who are or who have been in the same situation. Look in the phone book or on the Internet, ask your doctor, or contact the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute for help finding an esophageal cancer support group in your area.
It's also important to be open with your family members and other loved ones. Lean on them for help and support, and for a friendly face and an open ear when that's all you need.
Dealing With Limitations After Esophageal Cancer
Your esophageal cancer treatment plan should have equal focus on ridding your body of esophageal cancer, managing pain and discomfort, and maintaining emotional health. And remember: The side effects and other complications that may come with esophageal cancer can be managed so that you can continue living a full and happy life.
Video: Stages of Esophageal Cancer and Treatments
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