Esophageal cancer is cancer that occurs in the esophagus — a long, hollow tube that runs from your throat to your stomach. Your esophagus helps move the food you swallow from the back of your throat to your stomach to be digested.

Esophageal cancer usually begins in the cells that line the inside of the esophagus. Esophageal cancer can occur anywhere along the esophagus. More men than women get esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Incidence rates vary within different geographic locations. In some regions, higher rates of esophageal cancer may be attributed to tobacco and alcohol use or particular nutritional habits and obesity.


Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread. Esophageal cancer, also called esophagus cancer, begins in the cells that line the esophagus.

Specifically, cancer of the esophagus begins in the inner layer of the esophageal wall and grows outward. If it spreads through the esophageal wall, it can travel to lymph nodes, which are the tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection, as well as the blood vessels in the chest and other nearby organs. Esophageal cancer can also spread to the lungs, liver, stomach, and other parts of the body.

There are 2 main types of esophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

 This type of esophageal cancer starts in squamous cells that line the esophagus. It usually develops in the upper and middle part of the esophagus.

  • Adenocarcinoma

 This type begins in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus where the esophagus and the stomach come together.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer:

  • People between the ages of 45 and 70 have the highest risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Men are 3 to 4 times more likely than women to develop esophageal cancer.
  • Black people are twice as likely as white people to develop the squamous cell type of esophageal cancer.
  • Using any form of tobacco, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chewing tobacco, and snuff raises the risk of esophageal cancer, especially squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Heavy drinking over a long period of time increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus, especially when combined with tobacco use.
  • Diet/nutrition.A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables and certain vitamins and minerals can increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer.
  • Being severely overweight and having too much body fat can increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma.
  • Children who have accidentally swallowed lye have an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma. Lye can be found in some cleaning products, such as drain cleaners.

Your doctor may recommend running laboratory tests on a tumor sample to identify specific genes, proteins, and other factors unique to the tumor.

PD-L1 and microsatellite instability (MSI) testing

 Testing may be done for PD-L1 and high microsatellite instability (MSI-H), which may also be called a mismatch repair deficiency.

HER2 testing

Human epidermal growth receptor 2 (HER2) is a specialized protein found on the surface of cells.

Inheritance. Barrett esophagus usually occurs sporadically in people with no family history of the condition. In rare cases, it can affect more than one family member; however, it is unclear whether these cases are due to common environmental exposures or an inherited predisposition (or a combination of the two).

Esophageal carcinoma (EC) is the sixth leading cause of cancer mortality in males and the ninth leading cause of cancer mortality in females in worldwide. The highest incident rates of EC are found in Eastern Asia, Southern Africa, and Eastern Africa and the lowest incidence rate of EC is found in Western Africa. Esophageal carcinoma is usually 3 to 4 times more common among men than women. The 5-year overall survival ranges from 15% to 25%. In China, it is predicted that EC is the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths in males and females after lung and bronchus, stomach, and liver.