Esophageal cancer is cancer arising from the esophagus—the food pipe that runs between the throat and the stomach. Symptoms often include difficulty in swallowing and weight loss. Other symptoms may include pain when swallowing, a hoarse voice, enlarged lymph nodes ("glands") around the collarbone, a dry cough, and possibly coughing up or vomiting blood.
The two main sub-types of the disease are esophageal squamous-cell carcinoma (often abbreviated to ESCC), which is more common in the developing world, and esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC), which is more common in the developed world. A number of less common types also occur. Squamous-cell carcinoma arises from the epithelial cells that line the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma arises from glandular cells present in the lower third of the esophagus, often where they have already transformed to intestinal cell type (a condition known as Barrett's esophagus). Causes of the squamous-cell type include tobacco, alcohol, very hot drinks, poor diet, and chewing betel nut. The most common causes of the adenocarcinoma type are smoking tobacco, obesity, and acid reflux.
The disease is diagnosed by biopsy done by an endoscope (a fiberoptic camera). Prevention includes stopping smoking and eating a healthy diet. Treatment is based on the cancer's stage and location, together with the person's general condition and individual preferences. Small localized squamous-cell cancers may be treated with surgery alone with the hope of a cure. In most other cases, chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy is used along with surgery. Larger tumors may have their growth slowed with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In the presence of extensive disease or if the affected person is not fit enough to undergo surgery, palliative care is often recommended.
As of 2018, esophageal cancer was the eighth-most common cancer globally with 572,000 new cases during the year. It caused about 509,000 deaths that year, up from 345,000 in 1990. Rates vary widely among countries, with about half of all cases occurring in China. It is around three times more common in men than in women. Outcomes are related to the extent of the disease and other medical conditions, but generally tend to be fairly poor, as diagnosis is often late. Five-year survival rates are around 13% to 18%.