Esophageal cancer is a frightening diagnosis and can cause confusion for those who are not familiar with medical terms and procedures. It is important for patients to remain calm and focus on the road to recovery. Remember to always keep open lines of communication with your doctors and nurses. Never be afraid to ask them to explain anything you may not understand.
Below are common medical terms that are specifically related to esophageal cancer. Please feel free to utilize this webpage as a resource to educate yourself and to, hopefully, ease some anxieties. These definitions are intended for informational purposes only and should not replace professional care which can only be provided by your doctor and/or other medical professionals.
Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells are found in tissue that lines certain internal organs and makes and releases substances in the body, such as mucus, digestive juices, or other fluids. Adenocarcinomas usually form in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach.
Barium swallow (BAYR-ee-um SWAH-loh):
The process of getting x-ray pictures of the esophagus or the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract (esophagus, stomach, and duodenum). The x-ray pictures are taken after the patient drinks a liquid that contains barium sulfate (a form of the silver-white metallic element barium). The barium sulfate coats and outlines the inner walls of the esophagus and the upper GI tract so that they can be seen on the x-ray pictures. This procedure is also called an upper GI series
Barrett esophagus (BA-ret ee-SAH-fuh-gus):
A condition in which the cells lining the lower part of the esophagus have changed or been replaced with abnormal cells that could lead to cancer of the esophagus. The backing up of stomach contents (reflux) may irritate the esophagus and, over time, cause Barrett esophagus.
The removal of cells or tissues for examination by a pathologist. The pathologist may study the tissue under a microscope or perform other tests on the cells or tissue.
A thin, tube-like instrument used to examine the inside of the trachea, bronchi (air passages that lead to the lungs), and lungs. A bronchoscope has a light and a lens for viewing, and may have a tool to remove tissue.
A procedure that uses a bronchoscope to examine the inside of the trachea, bronchi (air passages that lead to the lungs), and lungs. A bronchoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. The bronchoscope is inserted through the nose or mouth. Bronchoscopy may be used to detect cancer or to perform some treatment procedures.
A flexible tube used to deliver fluids into or withdraw fluids from the body.
cerebrospinal fluid (seh-REE-broh-SPY-nul FLOO-id): The fluid that flows in and around the hollow spaces of the brain and spinal cord, and between two of the meninges (the thin layers of tissue that cover and protect the brain and spinal cord). Cerebrospinal fluid is made by tissue called the choroid plexus in the ventricles (hollow spaces) in the brain. Also called CSF.
Treatment that combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy. Also called chemoradiotherapy.
Treatment with drugs that kill cancer cells.
Chest x-ray (chest EX-ray):
An x-ray of the structures inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of high-energy radiation that can go through the body and onto film, making pictures of areas inside the chest, which can be used to diagnose disease.
Clinical trial (KLIH-nih-kul TRY-ul):
A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis, or treatment of a disease. Also called clinical study.
Connective tissue (kuh-NEK-tiv TIH-shoo):
Supporting tissue that surrounds other tissues and organs.
CT scan (… skan):
A procedure that uses a computer linked to an x-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create 3-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. A CT scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment, or find out how well treatment is working. Also called CAT scan, computed tomography scan, computerized axial tomography scan, and computerized tomography.
The thin muscle below the lungs and heart that separates the chest from the abdomen.
dysplasia (dis-PLAY-zhuh): Cells that look abnormal under a microscope but are not cancer.
The use of an electric current to kill cancer cells.
Endoscopic ultrasound (en-doh-SKAH-pik UL-truh-sownd):
A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the body.
A thin, tube-like instrument that has a light and a lens for viewing. A probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal organs to make a picture (sonogram). Also called endosonography and EUS.
Epidermoid carcinoma (EH-pih-DER-moyd KAR-sih-NOH-muh):
Cancer that begins in squamous cells. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales, and are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Most cancers of the cervix, head and neck are epidermoid carcinomas. Also called squamous cell carcinoma.
Esophageal cancer (ee-SAH-fuh-JEE-ul KAN-ser):
Cancer that forms in tissues lining the esophagus (the muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach). Two types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (cancer that begins in flat cells lining the esophagus) and adenocarcinoma (cancer that begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids).
Esophageal stent (ee-SAH-fuh-JEE-ul stent):
A device (stent) is placed in the esophagus to keep it open to allow food and liquids to pass through into the stomach.
An operation to remove a portion of the esophagus.
Examination of the esophagus using an esophagoscope. An esophagoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. When the esophagus and stomach are looked at, it is called an upper endoscopy.
Esophagus (ee-SAH-fuh-gus) :
The muscular tube through which food passes from the throat to the stomach.
gastric reflux (GAS-trik REE-flux): The backward flow of stomach acid contents into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). Also called esophageal reflux and gastroesophageal reflux.
External radiation therapy (…RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee):
A type of radiation therapy that uses a machine to aim high-energy rays at the cancer from outside of the body. Also called external-beam radiation therapy.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (gas-troh-i-sof-uh-jee-uh l, ‐ee-suh-faj-ee-uh l, gas-):
A condition in which the stomach contents leak backwards from the stomach into the esophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach). This can irritate the esophagus and cause heartburn and other symptoms.
High grade (hy grayd):
A term used to describe cells and tissue that look abnormal under a microscope. High-grade cancer cells tend to grow and spread more quickly than low-grade cancer cells. Cancer grade may be used to help plan treatment and determine prognosis. High-grade cancers usually have a worse prognosis than low-grade cancers and may need treatment right away or treatment that is more aggressive (intensive).
A cut made in the body to perform surgery.
Intraluminal intubation and dilation (IN-truh-LOO-mih-nul IN-too-BAY-shun … dy-LAY-shun):
A procedure in which a plastic or metal tube is inserted through the mouth into the esophagus (the tube that carries food to the stomach) to keep it open. This procedure may be used during radiation therapy for esophageal cancer.
Internal radiation therapy (in-TER-nul RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee):
A type of radiation therapy in which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters is placed directly into or near a tumor. Also called brachytherapy, implant radiation therapy, and radiation brachytherapy.
A procedure that uses a laparoscope, inserted through the abdominal wall, to examine the inside of the abdomen. A laparoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
Laser therapy (LAY-zer THAYR-uh-pee):
Treatment that uses intense, narrow beams of light to cut and destroy tissue, such as cancer tissue. Laser therapy may also be used to reduce lymphedema (swelling caused by a buildup of lymph fluid in tissue) after breast cancer surgery.
Lymph node (limf node):
A rounded mass of lymphatic tissue that is surrounded by a capsule of connective tissue. Lymph nodes filter lymph (lymphatic fluid), and they store lymphocytes (white blood cells). They are located along lymphatic vessels. Also called lymph gland.
Lymph vessel (limf …vessel):
A thin tube that carries lymph (lymphatic fluid) and white blood cells through the lymphatic system. Also called lymphatic vessel.
Cancerous. Malignant cells can invade and destroy nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Medical history (MEH-dih-kul HIH-stuh-ree):
A record of information about a person’s health. A personal medical history may include information about allergies, illnesses, surgeries, immunizations, and results of physical exams and tests. It may also include information about medicines taken and health habits, such as diet and exercise. A family medical history includes health information about a person’s close family members (parents, grandparents, children, brothers, and sisters). This includes their current and past illnesses. A family medical history may show a pattern of certain diseases in a family.
The spread of cancer from one part of the body to another. A tumor formed by cells that have spread is called a “metastatic tumor” or a “metastasis.” The metastatic tumor contains cells that are like those in the original (primary) tumor. The plural form of metastasis is metastases (meh-TAS-tuh-SEEZ).
A procedure in which radio waves and a powerful magnet linked to a computer are used to create detailed pictures of areas inside the body. These pictures can show the difference between normal and diseased tissue. MRI makes better images of organs and soft tissue than other scanning techniques, such as computed tomography (CT) or x-ray. MRI is especially useful for imaging the brain, the spine, the soft tissue of joints, and the inside of bones. Also called magnetic resonance imaging, NMRI, and nuclear magnetic resonance imaging.
The moist, inner lining of some organs and body cavities (such as the nose, mouth, lungs, and stomach). Glands in the mucosa make mucus (a thick, slippery fluid). Also called mucous membrane.
Palliative therapy (PA-lee-uh-tiv THAYR-uh-pee):
Treatment given to relieve the symptoms and reduce the suffering caused by cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Palliative cancer therapies are given together with other cancer treatments, from the time of diagnosis, through treatment, survivorship, recurrent or advanced disease, and at the end of life.
A doctor who identifies diseases by studying cells and tissues under a microscope.
PET scan (… skan):
A procedure in which a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein, and a scanner is used to make detailed, computerized pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is taken up. Because cancer cells often take up more glucose than normal cells, the pictures can be used to find cancer cells in the body. Also called positron emission tomography scan.
Primary tumor (PRY-mayr-ee TOO-mer):
A term used to describe the original, or first, tumor in the body. Cancer cells from a primary tumor may spread to other parts of the body and form new, or secondary, tumors. This is called metastasis. These secondary tumors are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. Also called primary cancer.
The likely outcome or course of a disease; the chance of recovery or recurrence.
Quality of life (KWAH-lih-tee … life):
The overall enjoyment of life. Many clinical trials assess the effects of cancer and its treatment on the quality of life. These studies measure aspects of an individual’s sense of well-being and ability to carry out various activities.
Radiation therapy (RAY-dee-AY-shun THAYR-uh-pee):
The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons, and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Also called irradiation and radiotherapy.
Radioactive seed (RAY-dee-oh-AK-tiv…):
A small, radioactive pellet that is placed in or near a tumor. Cancer cells are killed by the energy given off as the radioactive material breaks down and becomes more stable.
Recurrent cancer (ree-KER-ent KAN-ser):
Cancer that has recurred (come back), usually after a period of time during which the cancer could not be detected. The cancer may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or to another place in the body. Also called recurrence.
Regional chemotherapy (REE-juh-nul KEE-moh-THAYR-uh-pee):
Treatment with anticancer drugs directed to a specific area of the body.
Research study (reh-SERCH STUH-dee):
A scientific study of nature that sometimes includes processes involved in health and disease. For example, clinical trials are research studies that involve people. These studies may be related to new ways to screen, prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. They may also study certain outcomes and certain groups of people by looking at data collected in the past or future.
Risk factor (… FAK-ter):
Something that increases the chance of developing a disease. Some examples of risk factors for cancer are age, a family history of certain cancers, use of tobacco products, being exposed to radiation or certain chemicals, infection with certain viruses or bacteria, and certain genetic changes.
Side effect (side eh-FEKT):
A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some common side effects of cancer treatment are fatigue, pain, nausea, vomiting, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss, and mouth sores.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SKWAY-mus sel KAR-sih-NOH-muh):
Cancer that begins in squamous cells. Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that look like fish scales, and are found in the tissue that forms the surface of the skin, the lining of the hollow organs of the body, and the lining of the respiratory and digestive tracts. Also called epidermoid carcinoma.
A computer picture of areas inside the body created by high-energy sound waves. The sound waves are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of the body tissues on a computer screen. A sonogram may be used to help diagnose disease, such as cancer. It may also be used during pregnancy to check the fetus (unborn baby) and during medical procedures, such as biopsies. Also called ultrasonogram.
The extent of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether lymph nodes contain cancer, and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body.
Standard therapy (STAN-durd THAYR-uh-pee):
Treatment that is accepted by medical experts as a proper treatment for a certain type of disease and that is widely used by healthcare professionals. Also called best practice, standard medical care, and standard of care.
A physical or mental problem that a person experiences that may indicate a disease or condition. Symptoms cannot be seen and do not show up on medical tests. Some examples of symptoms are headache, fatigue, nausea, and pain.
Systemic chemotherapy (sis-TEH-mik KEE-moh-THAYR-uh-pee):
Treatment with anticancer drugs that travel through the blood to cells all over the body.
Examination of the inside of the chest, using a thoracoscope. A thoracoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
A group or layer of cells that work together to perform a specific function.
An abnormal mass of tissue that results when cells divide more than they should or do not die when they should. Tumors may be benign (not cancer), or malignant (cancer). Also called neoplasm.
A procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to look at tissues and organs inside the body. The sound waves make echoes that form pictures of the tissues and organs on a computer screen (sonogram). Ultrasound may be used to help diagnose diseases, such as cancer. It may also be used during pregnancy to check the fetus (unborn baby) and during medical procedures, such as biopsies. Also called ultrasonography.
Upper endoscopy (UH-per en-DOS-koh-pee):
Examination of the inside of the stomach using an endoscope, passed through the mouth and esophagus. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. Also called gastroscopy.
Upper GI series (UH-per … SEER-eez):
A series of x-ray pictures of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). The x-ray pictures are taken after the patient drinks a liquid containing barium sulfate (a form of the silver-white metallic element barium). The barium sulfate coats and outlines the inner walls of the upper gastrointestinal tract so that they can be seen on the x-ray pictures. Also called upper gastrointestinal series.
Sources: National Cancer Institute: PDQ® Esophageal Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/esophageal/Patient. Accessed: 08/21/2014 MedlinePlus: Gastroesophageal reflux disease. U.S. National Library of Medicine; From the National Institutes of Health. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000265.htm Accessed: 08/21/2014 Gastroesophageal reflux disease. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/gastroesophageal reflux disease Electrocoagulation. OxfordDictionaries.com. Retrieved August 21, 2014, from OxfordDictionaries.com, website: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/pronounce/american_english/electrocoagulation