Esophageal cancer

Also known as: Cancer, esophageal

The esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. It joins the stomach at the diaphragm, which is the breathing muscle separating the chest and lungs from the abdomen.

The connection of the esophagus to the stomach at the diaphragm is called the gastro-esophageal junction, which serves as a one-way valve to keep stomach contents from being refluxed, or regurgitated, back into the esophagus.  

The esophagus can be divided into thirds: top (proximal) or neck, middle or chest, and lower or abdominal. Esophageal cancer consists of mucous membrane cancer or adenocarcinomas most commonly, or squamous cell or epidermoid cancers. Adenocarcinomas can arise from pre-cancerous cells caused by heartburn or GERD.

Esophageal cancer is relatively common worldwide but rare in the U.S. Each year in the U.S., there are roughly 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer and 15,000 deaths from the disease.