Gullet - Oesophagus cancer

There are two main types of oesophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma - this develops in the thin, flat cells of the mucosa, which line the oesophagus.
  • Adenocarcinoma - this develops in the glandular cells of the submucosal lining of the oesophagus, which produce mucus.

A cancer can occur anywhere along the length of the oesophagus. Squamous cell cancers occur more commonly in the upper and middle regions. Adenocarcinomas tend to be more common at the lower end, including the junction where the oesophagus joins the stomach.

Over 95% of (95 out of 100) oesophageal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas.

There are other rarer types of cancer of the oesophagus.

These include soft tissue sarcomas such as gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).

Symptoms of oesophageal cancer

  • difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia) - feeling that your food is sticking in your throat
  • vomiting (being sick) or bringing food back up that hasn't yet entered the stomach (called regurgitation)
  • pain when swallowing
  • weight loss
  • pain or discomfort behind the breastbone or in the back
  • indigestion or heartburn that doesn't go away
  • a cough
  • hoarseness - this happens when there's pressure on the nerve that supplies the voice box.

These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer, but you should always tell your doctor about them, particularly if they don't go away after a couple of weeks.

*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support

At The Christie, the gastrointestinal: upper and hepatobilliary team in clinical oncology treat oesophageal cancers.

Last updated: May 2023