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Oesphagael Cancer (Gullet)

Introduction

Cancer of the oesophagus, also known as oesophageal cancer, is an uncommon but serious type of cancer that affects the oesophagus (gullet).  Oesophageal cancer is uncommon, but it is not rare. It is the ninth most common type of cancer in the UK, with more than 8,500 new cases diagnosed each year.


Oesophageal cancer most commonly affects people over the age of 60, with the average age at diagnosis being 72. The condition is more common in men than in women.

The Oesophagus

The oesophagus is the medical name for the gullet, which is part of the digestive system. It is the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. The top part of the oesophagus lies behind the windpipe (trachea). The bottom part runs down through the chest between the spine and the heart.  

Oesophageal cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms in the early stages when the tumour is small. It is only when the tumour gets bigger that symptoms tend to develop.  

One of the main symptoms of oesophageal cancer is difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). This problem may contribute to weight loss which is another common feature of the condition.  

If you have problems swallowing and weight loss please see your GP. Having these symptoms does not mean that you have cancer but they should always be investigated.

 

Diagram for Upper GI

Types of Oesophageal Cancer  

There are two main types of Oesophageal Cancer:

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma forms in the upper part of the Oesophagus. It occurs when cells on the inside lining of the Oesophagus multiply abnormally.

  • Adenocarcinoma of the Oesophagus forms in the lower part of the Oesophagus. It occurs when cells inside the mucous glands that line the Oesophagus multiply abnormally. The mucous glands produce a slimy substance to help food slide down the Oesophagus more easily.

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