Christopher Hitchens diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus

Hitch-22, the recently-published memoir of English-American author and journalist Christopher Hitchens, begins with a sad and dark “Prologue with Premonitions” which begins with his description of a magazine article that, due to a proofreading error, refers to him as “the late Christopher Hitchens.” Mr. Hitchens goes on to describe examples of other people in situations that Mark Twain famously referred to as “reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

During an appearance to promote his book on The Daily Show. the man who hates to be called “Chris” told John Stewart that turning 60 years old is different than turning 50 and causes you to “start to look back.” He then recounts the magazine misprint story and describes his initial reaction to it in characteristic Hitchian fashion: “For now, screw you, I’m not late yet.” Still “isn’t it a bit soon? [to write your memoir]”. “Maybe, but there’s no choice of leaving it to too late now, is there?’

Hitchen’s premonitions in his book and on The Daily Show, take on an eerie quality now that he has had to cancel his book tour, saying “I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus,” he said. “This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.”

The esophagus is the muscular tube, anatomically located behind your wind pipe or trachea, throw which food and drink passes between the mouth and the stomach. It’s actually your esophagus, and not your heart, when you experience “heart burn” which is caused by stomach acids leaking backward into your esophagus damaging its lining and causing pain.

Cancer of the esophagus is associated with heavy alcohol and tobacco use.  The most common signs of esophageal cancer are painful or difficult swallowing and weight loss. These and other symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:

  • Painful or difficult swallowing.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pain behind the breastbone.
  • Hoarseness and cough.
  • Indigestion and heartburn

Treatment options and chances for recovery are described in our Resounding Health CaseBook™ on the topic.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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