Esophageal Cancer

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Esophageal cancer is a cancer that occurs in the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Although survival rates have improved over the years, esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed when it has advanced and is more difficult to treat.

At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, esophageal cancer is treated with a multidisciplinary approach in which a team of experts including medical oncologists, surgeons and radiation oncologists work together to develop an individual treatment plan based on each patient’s unique needs.

Learn More About Esophageal Cancer:


There are two types of esophageal cancer including:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma occurs in the cells lining the esophagus. This type of esophageal cancer is more common in African-Americans.
  • Adenocarcinoma occurs in glandular tissue, most often in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach. It is the most common type of esophageal cancer. Adenocarcinomas are more common among Caucasians.

The stages of esophageal cancer follow the same staging rules as all other cancers - Stage I (1), II(2), III(3) and IV(4).

Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer symptoms of are often not evident during its early stages. Even though symptoms may not mean cancer, people should consider contacting a doctor when experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Pain, pressure or burning in the throat or chest
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Hoarseness
  • Persistent hiccups
  • Chronic cough

Risk Factors for and Causes of Esophageal Cancer

Anything that increases your chance of getting esophageal cancer is a risk factor. These include:

  • Long-term history of smoking
  • Consumption of alcohol, especially when combined with smoking
  • Barrett's Esophagus: a condition in which chronic acid reflux causes changes in the cells lining the lower esophagus, increasing the risk of adenocarcinomaAchalasia: a disease in which the esophagus fails to move food into the stomach properly
  • Tylosis: a rare, inherited disorder that causes excess skin to grow on the soles of the feet and palms and has a near 100% chance of developing into esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal webs: flaps of tissue that protrude into the esophagus, making swallowing difficult
  • Lye or other caustic substances: when ingested, such substances can cause scarring that may progress to cancer years later