Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal cancer is the growth of cancer cells in this tube. There are two main types of esophageal cancer:

  • Causes

    Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

  • Definition

    The esophagus is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Esophageal cancer is the growth of cancer cells in this tube.

    There are two main types of esophageal cancer:

    • Squamous cell cancer—from the cells that line the upper part of the esophagus
    • Adenocarcinoma—from cells where the esophagus meets the stomach
    Esophageal Cancer
    Esophageal cancer
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  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Tests to look for esophageal tumors may include:

    • Esophagoscopy
      with biopsy—examination of esophagus with a lighted scope, and removal of a small sample of esophageal tissue
    • Barium swallow—use of contrast material to examine the esophagus with x-ray

    Imaging tests may be used to determine if or where esophageal cancer has spread. These include:

    • CT scan
    • PET-CT scan
    • Bone scan

  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of developing esophageal cancer, take these steps:


    • Don't smoke or use other tobacco products. If you smoke, find out how you can quit.
    • Drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate alcohol intake is no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
    • Eat a healthful diet that includes fruits and vegetables, and foods high in dietary fiber, and less dairy, processed foods, and red meat.
    • Get medical treatment for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
    • If you are overweight or obese, talk with your doctor or a dietitian about losing weight.
    • Talk with your doctor the human papilloma virus vaccine (HPV) to prevent HPV infection.

    This type of cancer is usually detected in later stages. People who have risk factors, especially GERD or Barrett's esophagus, should talk to their doctor about screening tests. Screening tests will look for cancer in people before they have any symptoms.

  • Risk Factors

    Esophageal cancer is more common in men, and in people aged 50 years and older. Other factors that may increase your chance of esophageal cancer include:

    • Smoking,
      or smokeless tobacco use, such as chewing tobacco or snuff
    • Excess
      alcohol

    • History of
      gastroesophageal reflux, especially if this has caused
      Barrett's esophagus
    • Achalasia
      (chronic dilation of the esophagus)
    • Radiation therapy
    • Obesity
    • Damaged esophagus from toxic substances, such as lye
    • History of head and/or neck cancer

    • Human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
    • Certain rare genetic conditions, such as Plummer Vinson syndrome and tylosis

  • Symptoms

    Esophageal cancer may cause:

    • Trouble swallowing
    • Painful swallowing
    • Weight loss
    • Cough (from aspiration)
    • Hoarse voice
    • Pain in the throat, back, chest
    • Nausea, vomiting
    • Coughing up blood
    • Black tarry stools
    • Hiccups

  • Treatment

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options may include one or more of the following:

    If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, be sure to follow your doctor's
    instructions.