About Esophageal Cancer

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Comprehensive care for patients with esophageal cancer is provided through the UCLA Center for Esophageal Disorders. Below you will find more information about esophageal cancer, our cancer services, and information for patients and healthcare professionals.

Types of Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus is a 10-inch long, hollow, muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. When a person swallows, the walls of the esophagus contract to push food down into the stomach. Glands in the lining of the esophagus produce mucus, which keeps the passageway moist and makes swallowing easier. The esophagus is located just behind the trachea or windpipe.

Esophageal cancer, also called esophagus cancer, begins when cells in the lining of the esophagus grow uncontrollably and eventually form a tumor. Cancer of the esophagus begins in the inner layer of the esophageal wall and grows outward. If it metastasizes, or spreads, through the esophageal wall, it can invade lymph nodes, 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 two types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma arises in squamous cells that line the esophagus. This type of cancer usually develops in the upper and middle part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma begins in the glandular tissue in the lower part of the esophagus at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. Treatment is similar for both types.

Staging

Stage I

The cancer is found only in the top layers of cells lining the esophagus.

Stage II

The cancer involves deeper layers of the lining of the esophagus, or it has spread to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

Stage III

The cancer has invaded more deeply into the wall of the esophagus or has spread to tissues or lymph nodes near the esophagus. It has not spread to other parts of the body.

Stage IV

The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Esophageal cancer can spread almost anywhere in the body, including the liver, lungs, brain and bones.