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What is Oesophageal Cancer?

Oesophagus/esophagus: the muscular tube (gullet) through which food passes from the throat to the stomach through a series of muscular movements. It is about 10 inches (25cm) long, joining the pharynx to the stomach. It lies in the centre of the body with the trachea in the front and is composed of the following layers:


  • Muscular layer: muscles contract to move food and liquid along length of the stomach.

  • Innermost layers: mucous helps lubricate food and provide protection from hard foods. Blood vessels are present in these layers.

  • Outermost layer: connective tissue membrane.


Oesophageal cancer: involves a malignant tumour that grows in the lining of the oesophagus. As the tumour grows this may cause discomfort as it affects the person's ability to swallow, eat and drink.


Tends to occur: in people aged over 35 years old and is more common in men than in women. There is a 3:1 higher risk of caucasian males to females. However it can occur at any age.


The confusion of oesphageal cancer and stomach cancer: some people tend to confuse these two cancers. Although they can be quite similar in terms of their slow growth (thereby limiting noticable symptoms), they are still different types of cancer.


Stomach cancer: (also called gastric cancer) includes the adenocarcinoma of the stomach, whereas oesophageal cancer can involve adenocarcinoma of the throat. The causes and symptoms are also quite similar, and so is treatment, except that the focus area of treatment is different. Distal stomach cancers are closer to the bowel, and these are different to oesophageal tumours.


The confusion lies with junctional tumours in the gastrointestinal tract. These junctional tumours are in the borderline zone of the oesophagus and the stomach. It is sometimes unclear what type of cancer these junctional tumours are. On a positive note, the treatment is not very distinguishable between oesophageal cancer and stomach cancer, so this is rarely a significant problem. Instead, junctional tumours is a cause of intrigue for doctors and scientists in research, and has sparked debate amongst the medical community as to whether junctional tumours belong to oesophageal or stomach cancer.


It should also be noted that throat cancer is a different type of cancer to oesophageal cancer. Throat cancer affects the head and neck, and is more specifically an auralpharyngeal cancer. Tumours are commonly found in the gullet. Throat cancers have different symptoms and a different type of treatment.

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