When Bill Garland learned of his esophageal cancer, he knew nothing about proton therapy except that his doctors highly recommended the treatment. And he fully expected to suffer the same kind of side effects as traditional radiation—fatigue, site burns, loss of appetite. But Garland says he felt good most of the five weeks he underwent proton therapy, even though he was taking chemotherapy at the same time.
“I got the biggest surprise of my life—it didn’t bother me at all,” Garland, 80, says. “At church, there’s five men who’ve got cancer of different kinds. I was almost hesitant to tell them how I really felt, because they felt so bad.”
Garland discovered his cancer after being admitted to the hospital for internal bleeding. A tumor at the base of his esophagus turned out to be the culprit, and Knoxville medical oncologist, Tracy Dobbs, MD, recommended Provision Center for Proton Therapy, where he was treated with protons by Allen Meek, MD, board-certified radiation oncologist. “The esophagus is a difficult organ to treat with radiation therapy since it is so close to the heart, lungs, and spine,” said Dr. Meek. “Proton therapy allows us to only target the cancer cells, sparing surrounding tissues.”
“Because of (other) health issues, he was not going to be a candidate for surgery,” says Inez Garland, Bill Garland’s daughter-in-law, who accompanied him to doctors appointments as well as some of his treatments. “He did exceptionally great with everything,” she says. “He didn’t get nauseated, didn’t have any burns. He never had to get on liquids or anything. The people were so nice, everybody made us feel comfortable,” Inez Garland says.
The treatments ended in October, and Bill Garland is free again to enjoy his life and family of four children, 12 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
“It really worked for me,” he says. “I tell everybody about proton.”
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, Provision is here to help. Please call 1-855-566-1600 to speak with one of our Care Coordinators or visit ProvisionProton.com.
Esophageal Cancer Facts *
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 16,000 Americans are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year. It affects men much more often than women. Middle-aged men who are overweight with a history of acid reflux (heartburn) seem to be at the highest risk. Because the disease often has no symptoms in the early stages, it is usually detected at a more advanced stage that is more challenging to treat.
The esophagus is a foot-long tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. Its lining has several layers. Esophageal cancer begins in the cells of the inside lining. It then grows into the channel of the esophagus and the esophageal wall.
A sphincter, a special muscle that relaxes to let food in or out, is on each end of the esophagus. The one at the top lets food or liquid into the esophagus. The one on the bottom lets food enter the stomach.
Acid Reflux Raises Risk
This sphincter also prevents stomach contents from refluxing (coming) back into the esophagus. If stomach juices with acid and bile come into the esophagus, it causes indigestion or heartburn. Reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are the medical names for heartburn.
If you have reflux for a long time, the cells at the end of the esophagus change to become more like the cells in the intestinal lining. This is called Barrett’s esophagus, and it is a pre-malignant condition. This means it can become esophageal cancer and needs to be watched closely.
Esophageal Cancer Types
The types of esophageal cancer are named after the cells where they begin.
Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of esophageal cancer in western societies, especially in white males. It starts in gland cells in the tissue, most often in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach. The major risk factors include reflux and Barrett’s esophagus.
Squamous cell carcinoma or cancer, also called epidermoid carcinoma, begins in the tissue that lines the esophagus, particularly in the middle and upper parts. In the United States, this type of esophageal cancer is on the decline. Risk factors include smoking and drinking alcohol.
This is the most common type of esophageal cancer worldwide. In other countries, including Iran, northern China, India and southern Africa, this type of esophageal cancer is much more common than in the United States.
* (Esophageal Facts Source: mdanderson.org)