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Oncology (General Cancer)/Progression of esophageal cancer

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Question
I am a 44 year old woman. For the past couple of years I have noticed difficulty swallowing that is getting gradually worse. It started with hardboiled eggs ... I would get the hiccups every time I ate one. Now it is other dry foods like crusty breads or those that require a lot of chewing like steak. I used to be able to eat a whole meal without needing to drink anything and now I'm finding that I often need to wash down my food or it feels like it gets stuck.

I have a history of heartburn and indigestion and I do take prilosec daily--probably for at least a year. Should I see a doctor about this or is it just a natural progression of aging? If it was esophageal cancer would it be going on for so long and only gradually worsening, or would there be a much more rapid progression?

Answer
Definitely see a doctor.  What you are describing could indeed be esophageal cancer, but there are several other possibilities, some of which aren't so threatening.  For instance, you might have achalasia, which is a problem with the muscles in the esophagus.  You could have chronic esophagitis from a yeast infection.  You might have an esophageal diverticulum.  And there is  a disorder which can eventually become cancer, called Barrett's esophagus, or squamous dysplasia.  There are a few other things that I can think of that could cause your symptoms.  So by all means see an MD and they should recommend an upper endoscopy.  Once you know what you have, the treatment and prognosis will be obvious.  Keep me posted.  

Oncology (General Cancer)

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Donald Higby, M.D.

Expertise

I can answer almost all questions related to the treatment and natural course of most kinds of cancer, especially cancers of prostate, colon, lung and breast.

Experience

I have been a practicing medical oncologist for 36 years, and have been chief of service at a major medical center for 25 years. I've also done research in cancer treatments.

Organizations
American Society of Clinical Oncology

Publications
New England Journal of Medicine American Journal of Medicine Journal of the American Society of Clinical Oncology Hematology Transfusion Medicine

Education/Credentials
MD, Stanford University Internal Medicine residency, St. Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO Medical Oncology Fellowship, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY

Awards and Honors
America's Best Physicians, last 14 years

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