Esophageal Cancer: Patient Education

Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society, esophageal cancer is three to four times more common in men than in women.

According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, esophageal cancer is the seventh most common cause of cancer death among men.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of esophageal cancer is on the rise. The reason at this time is unknown.


Note: This web content refers to squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus as esophageal cancer. Treatments for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus in most cases are similar.

Esophageal cancer is a malignant tumor that starts in your esophagus, the muscular tube that moves food from the mouth to the stomach. The growing tumor can affect the function of your esophagus as well as spread (metastasize) to other parts of your body.

Your esophagus is about 3/4 of an inch wide at its narrowest and about 10 inches long. It’s part of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Your esophagus consists of three layers of tissue:

  • Mucous membrane
  • Muscle
  • Connective tissue

How Esophageal Cancer Starts

Cancer of the esophagus generally begins in the inner layer of your esophagus and then grows outward through the other layers. If it’s not detected early, it may spread through your esophageal wall into your lymph nodes and other nearby organs. It may also spread into your lungs, liver and stomach.

Types of Esophageal Cancer

Your esophagus is made up of two different kinds of cells. As a result, there are two main kinds of esophageal cancer:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

  • About half of esophageal cancers
  • Occurs anywhere along your esophagus in the squamous cells that line your esophagus
  • Also called epidermoid carcinoma


  • About half of esophageal cancers
  • Occurs in your glandular (secretory) cells, which often replace squamous cells in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus
  • Generally in your lower esophagus where your esophagus meets your stomach

Related Resources

Additional information about cancer of the esophagus:

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