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About Esophageal Cancer

The esophagus helps move food that is swallowed from the back of the throat to the stomach to be digested. In adults, the esophagus is usually between 10 and 13 inches long and cancer can occur in any cells along the esophagus. Cancer of the esophagus typically starts in the inner layer (the mucosa) of the esophagus wall and grows outward through the other layers. As tumors progress, they can affect the deep tissues and muscles of the esophagus.

Types of Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is classified according to the type of cells that are involved.

Types of esophageal cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinomas, which begin in the cells of mucus-secreting glands in the esophagus and occur most often in the lower portion of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of esophageal cancer in the United States, affecting primarily white men.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas, which are flat, thin cells that line the surface of the esophagus and occur most often in the upper and middle portions of the esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most prevalent esophageal cancer worldwide.
  • Other rare types, which include choriocarcinoma, lymphoma, melanoma, sarcoma, and small cell carcinoma.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Early esophageal cancer can often cause no signs or symptoms.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer may include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain, pressure, or burning
  • Worsening indigestion or heartburn
  • Coughing or hoarseness

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus)
  • Bile reflux
  • Difficulty swallowing because of an esophageal sphincter that won’t relax (achalasia)
  • A steady habit of drinking very hot liquids
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • A diet lacking in fruits and vegetables
  • Undergoing radiation treatment to the chest or upper abdomen

Treating Esophageal Cancer at UT Health Austin

Treatment requires accurate diagnosis and a care plan tailored to the specific type of tumor, the tumor’s location, and the overall needs of the patient. The different behavior of different tumor types helps drive decisions about treatment, which may include combinations of surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

Care Team Approach

At UT Health Austin, we take a multidisciplinary approach to your care. This means you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Your care team will include specialists that are nationally recognized leaders at the forefront of their fields, including medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, advanced practice providers, physical therapists, social workers, dietitians, and more, who work together to help you get back to the things in your life that matter most to you. We also collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School, The University of Texas at Austin, and the Livestrong Cancer Institutes to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to identify and utilize new therapies to improve cancer treatment outcomes. We are committed to communicating and coordinating your care with your other healthcare providers to ensure that we are providing you with comprehensive, whole-person care.

Learn More About Your Care Team

Gastrointestinal Cancer

Health Transformation Building, 8th Floor
1601 Trinity Street, Bldg. A, Austin, TX 78712
1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737)
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Surgical Oncology

Health Transformation Building, 8th Floor
1601 Trinity Street, Bldg. A, Austin, TX 78712
1-833-UT-CARES (1-833-882-2737)
Get Directions