Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer is cancer that develops in the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The esophagus, located just behind the trachea, is about 10 to 13 inches in length and allows food to enter the stomach for digestion. The wall of the esophagus is made up of several layers, and cancers generally start from the inner layer and grow out.

Other facts about esophageal cancer include the following:

  • Esophageal cancer is three times more common among men than among women.
  • Esophageal cancer is three times more common among African Americans than among Caucasians.
  • Some countries such as Iran, northern China, India and southern Africa have rates that are 10 to 100 times greater than those in the U.S.

What are the different types of esophageal cancer?

There are two main types of esophageal cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for about half of all esophageal cancers, grows in the cells that form the top layer of the lining of the esophagus, known as squamous cells. This type of cancer can grow anywhere along the esophagus.

The other type of esophageal cancer, known as adenocarcinoma, develops in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus, near the opening of the stomach.

Treatment for both types of esophageal cancer is similar.