Esophageal cancer

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Cancerous tumours of the esophagus

A cancerous tumour of the esophagus can destroy and invade normal tissue and spread, or metastasize, to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours. Esophageal cancer can occur anywhere along the esophagus. Cancers that start in the area where the esophagus joins the stomach (called the gastroesophageal, or GE, junction) often grow and spread like cancer of the esophagus, so they are treated like esophageal cancers.


Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is the most common type of cancerous esophageal tumour. It usually develops in the lower third of the esophagus, often in an area containing Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus can be a precancerous condition. Advanced adenocarcinoma of the esophagus often grows into the GE junction. It can even grow into the upper part of the stomach.

Adenocarcinoma in the upper two-thirds of the esophagus is much less common than in the lower esophagus.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) of the esophagus can occur anywhere along the esophagus, but it is most common in the middle and upper part. It usually occurs as one tumour, but sometimes more than one tumour develops.

Rare esophageal tumours

The following cancerous tumours of the esophagus are rare.

Gastrointestinal (GI) neuroendocrine tumour can start in the esophagus. Find out more about neuroendocrine tumours (NETs).

Small cell carcinoma is also called poorly differentiated neuroendocrine tumour. It is a fast-growing, or aggressive, form of esophageal cancer that tends to have a less favourable prognosis. Small cell carcinoma is usually treated with radiation and chemotherapy.

Leiomyosarcoma is a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma that develops in smooth muscle of the esophagus. It is often treated with surgery.

Adenoid cystic carcinoma is a slow-growing, or indolent, form of esophageal cancer. It usually occurs in women aged 40–60 years. Adenoid cystic carcinoma is usually treated with surgery and radiation therapy.

Mixed squamous cell and adenocarcinoma tumours occur mostly in men over the age of 60 years. They have a less favourable prognosis and are usually treated with surgery.

Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs) start in specialized cells of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Find out more about gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).

Mucosal lentiginous melanoma is a rare type of melanoma that occurs in the mucous tissue that lines the respiratory, gastrointestinal, reproductive and urinary systems. Melanoma is a type of cancer that starts in melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that make melanin, which is the pigment that gives your skin and eyes their colour. Find out more about melanoma.

Kaposi sarcoma (KS) is a type of soft tissue sarcoma that starts in cells that line lymph or blood vessels. Find out more about Kaposi sarcoma.


Dr Lillian Sung Improving supportive care for children with cancer

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Making progress in the cancer fight

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The 5-year cancer survival rate has increased from 25% in the 1940s to 60% today.

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