Oesophageal cancer is a type of cancer or growth of a malignant tumour on the lining of the oesophagus or food pipe.  The food pipe is a long hollow tube that lies behind the windpipe and connects the throat to the stomach. It helps to slide down the food you swallow from the back of the throat to the stomach to get digested. Also Read: Lung Cancer: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

oesophageal cancer

As the tumour grows, it causes uncontrolled proliferation of the cells, throughout the longitudinal section of the food pipe and even spread to other parts of the body, affecting the deep tissues and muscles of the oesophagus.

There are two main types of Oesophageal cancer which includes:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

In this type, cancer starts in the flat thin square cells lining the food pipe and mostly appears at the top or middle of the oesophagus. This type of cancer mostly occurs due to addiction to smoking or drinking.


In this type, cancer occurs in the glandular cells of the oesophagus, that is responsible for the production of mucus and are most common at the lower extremity of the oesophagus. This form is common in men and mostly occurs due to obesity and a long history of acid reflux.

Undifferentiated Carcinoma:

A type of cancer, where the cells although proliferate at a rapid rate, they are underdeveloped when looked under a microscope or during biopsy giving them a grade of undifferentiated carcinoma.

Other rare types of oesophageal cancer depend upon the part the cancer is spreading onto which includes:

  • Melanoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Sarcoma
  • Small cell cancer

Oesophageal cancer is more common in men than in women and the risk of getting this type of cancer usually depends upon age, lifestyle modifications and medical conditions. With the continued proliferation of the cancer cells, it can ultimately lead to complications such as extreme pain and bleeding from the throat and inability to drink or swallow something. The various risk factors that can lead to this untimely fatal disease include:

Risk Factors

  • Addiction to alcohol. Also Read: Alcohol And Its Effects On The Human Body
  • Smoking or chewing tobacco
  • Snuffing tobacco powder
  • Using betel liquid
  • Suffering from Water Brash or GERD i.e. Oesophageal Reflux Disease,
  • Suffering from Achalasia, a condition where the muscles at the lower extremity of the oesophagus don’t relax properly
  • Having Barrett’s Oesophagus, a condition where the cells lining the oesophagus becomes abnormal due to long term indigestion or acid reflux are prone to getting oesophageal carcinoma
  • Obesity
  • Diet lacking fruits and vegetables


The common signs and symptoms of Oesophageal Cancer include:

  • Dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn or Indigestion
  • Coughing
  • Frequent choking while eating or swallowing
  • Vomiting
  • Food reflux
  • Fatigue
  • Hiccups

Diagnosis and Treatment

Oesophageal cancer is usually diagnosed by the doctor after properly reviewing the signs and symptoms followed by acknowledging the patients’ past medical history along with a thorough physical examination. It is also important to know about the particular stage of cancer for proper diagnoses and treatment.

Stages Of Oesophageal Cancer:

Stage 0:

Formation of non-cancerous abnormal cells on the cellular lining of the oesophagus.

Stage I:

Growth of cancer cells on the oesophageal lining.

Stage II:

Proliferation of the cancer cells to the muscle layer or the outer layer of the oesophagus

Stage III:

Spreading of the cancer cells into the inner muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the oesophagus.

Stage IV:

Termed as the last or advanced stage when the cancer cells have spread onto the deeper tissues and other organs of the body.

The various diagnostic procedures to identify the correct cancer stage includes:

  • Barium-swallow X-ray
  • Endoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • Imaging techniques like CT-Scan, Bronchoscopy, Laparoscopy, Thoracoscopy, Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

Just like any other carcinoma, treatment and recovery from oesophageal cancer are possible if the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage so as to stop the abnormal growth of cells from spreading further. Depending upon the particular stage the patient is diagnosed with, the various treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Electrocoagulation
  • Cryotherapy
  • Photodynamic therapy