Esophageal cancer, also called esophagus cancer, occurs when cells in the esophagus start to grow out of control and form a tumor. The esophagus is a muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. The inside of the esophagus has several layers. Esophageal cancer starts in the inner layer (the mucosa) and grows outward through the submucosa layer and muscle layer. Esophageal cancer is much more common in men than in women. Esophageal cancer risk factors include tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption and excess body weight.

Esophageal Cancer Overview and Symptoms

Esophageal cancer often does not cause symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage. Esophageal symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarseness
  • Chronic cough
  • Vomiting
  • Hiccups
  • Bone pain
  • Bleeding in the esophagus
Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

In addition to a physical examination, your doctor may request these diagnostic tests for esophageal cancer:

  • Endoscopy – A flexible scope with a video lens is passed down the throat and into the esophagus to look for anything unusual.
  • Biopsy – During endoscopy, a sample of tissue may be collected, then viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to look for cancer cells.
  • Barium swallow – A thick, chalky liquid called barium is swallowed to coat the walls of the esophagus. X-rays are taken, and the barium clearly outlines the esophagus. This test can show any abnormal areas in the inner lining of the esophagus.

Esophageal Cancer Treatment

The specific esophageal cancer treatment will depend on the stage of the disease (how far the cancer has spread) and other circumstances. However, it may include:

  • Surgery (also called surgical resection) - removal of the cancerous parts of the esophagus
  • Cryoablation -technique for removing cancerous tissue by killing it with extreme cold
  • Chemoembolization - The surgical introduction of chemotherapy drugs into the circulatory system to obstruct the blood vessels that feed a cancerous tumor
  • Radiofrequency ablation - destruction of cancerous tissue by the use of high frequency alternating current
  • Radiation therapy - use of radiation to kill cancerous cells or a solid tumor
  • Investigational agents - use of new techniques or chemotherapies to destroy cancer
  • Combined modality therapy - use of multiple techniques to destroy the cancer cells and or tumor
  • Intra-arterial chemotherapy - use of chemotherapy directly into the arteries that feed a tumor

Learn More

Through our program, you will have access to expert medical oncologists, surgeons, gastroenterologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, nurses, social workers and nutritionists.

Visit the Gastrointestinal Cancer Program