About Esophageal Cancer
Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus.
The esophagus is the hollow, muscular tube that moves food and liquid from the throat to the stomach. The wall of the esophagus is made up of several layers of tissue, including mucous membrane, muscle, and connective tissue. Esophageal cancer starts on the inside lining of the esophagus and spreads outward through the other layers as it grows.
The two most common forms of esophageal cancer are named for the type of cells that become malignant (cancerous):
Squamous cell carcinoma:
Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the esophagus. This cancer is most often found in the upper and middle part of the esophagus, but can occur anywhere along the esophagus. This is also called epidermoid carcinoma.
Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the esophagus produce and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinomas usually form in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach.
Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer are weight loss and painful or difficult swallowing.
These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- Painful or difficult swallowing.
- Weight loss.
- Pain behind the breastbone.
- Hoarseness and cough.
- Indigestion and heartburn.
Smoking, heavy alcohol use, and Barrett esophagus can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
Risk factors include the following:
- Barrett esophagus: A condition in which the cells lining the lower part of the esophagus have changed or been replaced with abnormal cells that could lead to cancer of the esophagus. Gastric reflux (the backing up of stomach contents into the lower section of the esophagus) may irritate the esophagus and, over time, cause Barrett esophagus.
- Heavy alcohol use.
- Older age.
- Tobacco use.