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Coughing? Dealing with heartburn? It could be esophageal cancer

On Behalf of | Jan 10, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

There are many kinds of cancers that can form in the body, but one that has symptoms that might be ignored or brushed off is esophageal cancer. This kind of cancer occurs in the esophagus between the throat and stomach.

When this cancer forms, it often causes symptoms such as a chronic cough, weight loss, heartburn and chest pain. A person may begin having a hard time swallowing when they eat or drink, too.

The good news is that this type of cancer is relatively rare and affects fewer than 20,000 people annually in the United States. However, its rarity has a downside: Sometimes, this kind of cancer isn’t even considered.

What makes esophageal cancer difficult to diagnose?

The cancer itself isn’t necessarily difficult to identify or diagnose, but it may not be the first diagnosis that a medical provider jumps to. Heartburn, weight loss and a chronic cough can all be linked to other conditions. For example, someone with asthma may have a chronic cough. Asthma medications may lead to heartburn and a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease. This may lead to weight loss if the heartburn is severe enough to impact a person’s appetite.

Esophageal cancer’s symptoms may not be very prominent until the cancer has spread significantly, which is another issue. A person is likely to ignore on-and-off heartburn or a cough that comes and goes. A medical provider may consider treating the reflux or the cough, but they may not think to order imaging tests.

Diagnosing this condition is possible by visualizing the cancer, taking a biopsy and performing imaging tests. Since the main test, an endoscopy, is invasive and usually requires anesthesia, some doctors may be reluctant to jump to that testing immediately. Other testing, like barium swallow studies, can be uncomfortable, so they may not be ordered until first-line treatments, like taking acid reducers, fails to correct the problem.

Delaying the diagnosis of this condition may lead to it spreading around the body and making it harder to treat. If you are a victim of a delayed diagnosis, then you may be able to seek compensation.