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What is oesophageal cancer?
Oesophageal cancer is cancer of the food pipe. About 500 people are diagnosed with it in Ireland every year.
Oesophageal cancer develops when abnormal cells in the oesophagus grow out of control, forming a tumour.
Usually the tumour doesn't cause symptoms at first, but as it grows it can cause persistent indigestion and heartburn, and later difficulty swallowing.
What is the oesophagus and what does it do?
The back of your throat splits into two separate tubes: Your windpipe (trachea) and your oesophagus. The oesophagus is a long muscular tube that connects your throat with your stomach. It is about 12 inches (25-30 cm) long in adults.
When you swallow food, the muscles in your oesophagus move the food down into your stomach. A muscle valve at the end of your oesophagus prevents food and fluid from going back up. A valve at the top of your oesophagus stops food from going into your lungs.
The wall of your oesophagus has four layers:
- Inner layer or lining (mucosa): The lining of your oesophagus is moist so that food can pass easily into your stomach. It is made up of skin-like cells called squamous cells.
- Submucosa: The gland cells in this layer produce secretions (mucus). Mucus helps to keep your oesophagus moist.
- Muscle layer (muscularis): The muscles in this layer push the food down to your stomach.
- Outer layer (adventitia): The outer layer covers the oesophagus attaching it to nearby parts of the body.
The area where the oesophagus joins the stomach is called the gastro-oesophageal junction.
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