ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Esophageal Cancer. Use the menu to see other pages. Think of that menu as a roadmap for this entire guide.
About the esophagus
The esophagus is a 10-inch long, hollow, muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It is part of a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract, also called the digestive system. When a person swallows, the walls of the esophagus squeeze together to push food down into the stomach.
About esophageal cancer
Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread. Esophageal cancer, also called esophagus cancer, begins in the cells that line the esophagus.
Specifically, cancer of the esophagus begins in the inner layer of the esophageal wall and grows outward. If it spreads through the esophageal wall, it can travel to lymph nodes, which are the small, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection, as well as the blood vessels in the chest and other nearby organs. Esophageal cancer can also spread to the lungs, liver, stomach, and other parts of the body.
Types of esophageal cancer
There are 2 main types of esophageal cancer:
Squamous cell carcinoma. This type of esophageal cancer starts in squamous cells that line the esophagus. It usually develops in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.
Adenocarcinoma. This type begins in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus where the esophagus and the stomach come together.
Treatment is similar for both of these types of esophageal cancer. There are other types of very rare tumors of the esophagus. These include small cell neuroendocrine cancers, lymphomas, and sarcoma and make up less than 1% of esophageal cancers.
Looking for More of an Introduction?
If you would like more of an introduction, explore this related item. Please note that this link will take you to another section on Cancer.Net:
ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a 1-page fact sheet that offers an introduction to esophageal cancer. This free fact sheet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print.
The next section in this guide is Statistics. It helps explain the number of people who are diagnosed with esophageal cancer and general survival rates. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.