MSD Manual

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Cancer of the Esophagus
Cancer of the Esophagus
Cancer of the Esophagus

    Food and liquid pass from the mouth to the stomach through a muscular tube called the esophagus. Sometimes, the cells of the esophagus become cancerous. When the cells of the esophagus divide without order or control, it is called esophageal cancer. There are two types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma.

    The lining of the esophagus is made up of flat, thin cells called squamous cells. Squamous cell cancer develops in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.

    In addition to the squamous cells, the esophagus contains glandular cells. The glandular cells make and release mucus and other fluids that help with digestion. If stomach acids back up into the lower part of the esophagus, the acids may irritate the glandular cells causing the cells to change. These changes can lead to cancer in glandular cells, called adenocarcinoma.

    Symptoms of esophageal cancer include difficulty swallowing, severe weight loss, pain in the throat, back, or behind the breastbone, vomiting, or hoarseness. Esophageal cancer can spread (metastasize) to other organs in the body.

    Surgery is the most common treatment for either type of esophageal cancer. Radiation and chemotherapy may also be used. New types of treatments, such as laser therapy and photodynamic therapy may be used to ease symptoms.