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. 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 uncontrollably, 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 tiny, 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 two major 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. Other, very rare tumors of the esophagus, which make up less than 1% of esophageal cancers, include small cell neuroendocrine cancers, lymphomas, and sarcoma.
Looking for More of an Overview?
If you would like additional introductory information, explore this related item. Please note this link will take you to another section on Cancer.Net:
- ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a one-page fact sheet (available as a PDF) that offers an easy-to-print introduction to this type of cancer.