Nearly 18,000 new cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed each year, and while those numbers have remained relatively stable over the last few decades cancer of the esophagus remains one of the most difficult cancers to treat. It is estimated that 1 in 125 men, and 1 in every 435 women, in the United States will develop esophageal cancer at sometime in their lives. Obviously, statistics favor women when it comes to esophageal cancer, although the gap between men and women appears to be slowly closing. There are two basic types of esophageal cancer. The first, and most common, is squamous cell carcinoma, which affects the cells that line the entirety of the esophagus. The second type of esophageal cancer develops in the glands, and is called adenocarcinoma. This is the more dangerous of the two, and is more likely to metastasize and spread to other parts of the body. As with any type of cancer, the best medicine is prevention, and there are steps everyone can take to greatly reduce their risk for developing this life threatening disease.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer
Like many cancers, the risk of developing esophageal cancer increases with age, with more than 85% of cases occurring in people over the age of 55. While the direct cause of esophageal cancer remains unknown, scientists have discovered several key risk factors. Smoking and alcohol abuse are two of the main contributing factors, followed closely by obesity and a poor diet. Those people with a history of acid reflux disease and achalasia (in which the muscle at the lower end of the esophagus fails to relax properly making it difficult for food to pass into the stomach) are also at a higher risk for developing cancer of the esophagus.
The most common symptoms of esophageal cancer include:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Unexpected weight loss
- Pain in the chest
- Indigestion or heartburn
- Chronic hoarseness
Using Diet to Prevent Esophageal Cancer
One of the most effective ways to prevent esophageal cancer is through a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables. A predominantly vegan diet supplies many of the anti-cancer compounds the body needs to ward off esophageal cancer. Cruciferous vegetables, such as kale, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, and Brussels sprouts should be added to the diet as a preventative measure against a variety of different types of cancer. These vegetables should, of course, be organically grown and harvested to avoid exposure to potentially carcinogenic pesticides and herbicides. Leafy greens like spinach, collard greens and dandelion are also a very powerful addition to a anti-cancer diet because of their high phytochemical (plant bound natural chemicals) that help fight cancerous cells in the esophagus.
Foods to Exclude from Your Cancer Fighting Diet
If diet is a key tool in the prevention of esophageal cancer, there are some foods that should be limited or eliminated completely. This is particularly true for those people with a family history of esophageal cancer, or with a personal history of acid reflux disease or achalasia. Fatty foods, and fried foods and acidic foods should be eliminated as a matter of course, as these contribute to a number of diseases including esophageal cancer. The most acidic foods are animal products while the least acidic are vegetables. Fish has a net acid load of 14.6 mEq, meat is 12.4 mEq and eggs are 7.3 mEq whereas nuts are -1.1mEq (negative means alkaline not acid so the higher the negative number the better), root vegetables are -5.4 mEqand leafy greens are -23.4 mEq.
All cancer prevention begins with diet and lifestyle, and preventing esophageal cancer is no different. By adopting a predominantly vegan diet, rich in cancer fighting foods, it is possible to greatly reduce the risk for developing esophageal cancer later in life. Of course, it is also important to avoid tobacco and alcohol use, and to be careful of exposure to potentially toxic chemicals at home or in the workplace. Esophageal cancer is difficult to treat successfully, but through an all natural approach to prevention it is possible to maintain your total health and live cancer free.