Esophageal cancer is a malignant tumor
that affects the cells of the esophagus, a muscular tube of 2 cm to 3 cm in diameter and 25 cm to 30 cm in
length, which connects the pharynx (the throat) to the stomach. The esophagus is composed of several layers.
Cancer usually develops in the innermost layer and spreads outwardly. The disease can affect any portion of the
organ, but most cases occur in the lower third of the esophagus: lower
third, and upper third. Without a proper treatment, the tumor will continue to grow until becomes fetal.
Early diagnosis and treatment are vital. It is therefore important to seek medical care at the very first
symptom or sign. For more info please see esophageal cancer symptoms.
The esophagus, also called known as
the foodpipe or gullet, is a fibromuscular tube lined by squamous
epithelial cells, flat, scale-like cells. This organ plays the principal role in
transporting saliva, liquids, and foods from the mouth to the stomach. Once eaten, the
food enters the esophagus and down to the stomach, driven by the contraction of muscles of its wall. The input
and output of the esophagus are closed by “muscular rings” that open and close to manage the passage of food.
They are called sphincters: upper esophageal sphincter and lower esophageal
If the sphincter at the entrance of
the stomach does not function well, it can lead to gastroesophageal reflux which will cause irritation in the
esophagus wall. This chronic irritation of the esophagus is the factor that is most known to cause esophageal
cancer, although there are several other risk factors. For more info, Please see esophageal cancer causes and risk factors.
Cancer of the esophagus is quite
frequent and serious for which only an early diagnosis and effective treatment can lead to lasting survival. It
is estimated that less than 1 out 7 people diagnosed with the disease survive more than 5 years after diagnosis.
However, mortality from esophageal cancer decreased in recent years. To increase your chance of survival, it is
very important to maintain a good nutritional status before, during and after treatment. Please see esophageal cancer treatment for more details.
There are two main types of esophageal
malignant tumor which are distinguished by microscopic analysis:
Squamous cell carcinoma
– this form of cancer of
the esophagus is account for the vast majority of cases worldwide. It is favored by excessive use of tobacco and
alcohol consumption. Esophageal
carcinoma occurs most often in men.
Adenocarcinoma – this tumor occurs especially in the distal esophagus
(lower third of the esophagus), and it is favored by chronic gastroesophageal reflux
disease (GERD), which can be promoted by hiatal hernia, obesity, smoking, dry
mouth, asthma, diabetes, scleroderma (a chronic autoimmune disease), and
delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis).
Adenocarcinoma of the
is more prevalent inEurope and North
America, mostly in the United
Esophageal cancer is three times more
common in men than in women, and people of African origin appear to be at higher risk than Caucasians. Although
cancer of the esophagus is less frequent in Canada and the United States and is responsible for less than 1% of
all cancer cases, in certain areas of Asia it ranks second in term of frequency. For more info Please esophageal cancer incidence.
DA, Schlegel M, Martin RC: Gastroesophageal reflux disease-related
symptom assessment in subjects with malignant dysphagia receiving esophageal stents.
Am Surg. 2014; 80(12):1260-5 [PubMed]
US Department of Health & Human
Services: Anatomy of the Esophagus - seer.cancer.gov
Devesa SS, Blot WJ, Fraumeni JF Jr: Changing patterns in the incidence of esophageal and
gastric carcinoma in the United States. Cancer 83 (10): 2049-53, 1998.
WJ, McLaughlin JK: The changing epidemiology of esophageal cancer. Semin Oncol 26 (5 Suppl 15): 2-8,