Esophageal Cancer Prevention
General Information About Esophageal Cancer
Key Points for this Section
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 in the inside lining of the esophagus and spreads outward through the
other layers as it grows.The stomach and esophagus are part of the upper digestive system.
The stomach and esophagus are part of the upper digestive system.
The two most common types of esophageal cancer are named for the
type of cells that become malignant (cancerous):
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that begins 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
- Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in
glandular (secretory) cells.
Glandular cells in the lining of the esophagus produce and release fluids such
as mucus. Adenocarcinomas usually start in the lower part of the esophagus, near
See the following PDQ summaries for more information about esophageal cancer:
Esophageal cancer is found more often in men.
Men are about three times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer. The chance of developing esophageal cancer increases with age. Squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus is more common in blacks than in whites.
In the United States, the rates of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus have increased in the last 20 years. It is now more common than squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus. The rates of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus are decreasing.