What are the types of oesophageal cancer?

Female patient at a doctor's appointment

A tumour can grow anywhere along your oesophagus. When diagnosing and treating cancer, doctors think of the oesophagus in three sections: upper, middle and lower.

Oesophageal cancers are usually named after the type of cell where the cancer first starts to grow. More than 9 in every 10 oesophageal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas.

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Starts in the squamous cells that line the oesophagus. Squamous cell cancers are more common are most common in the upper to middle part of the oesophagus 
  • Adenocarcinoma: Starts in the gland cells of the oesophagus that produce mucus. Adenocarcinomas tend to occur in the lower third of the oesophagus 

Gastro oesophageal junction cancer (GOJ)

GOJ happens in the area of the oesophagus that joins to the stomach. It may be treated as oesophageal cancer or as stomach cancer, depending on where the cancer is found.

Rare types of oesophageal cancer

There are other rarer types of oesophageal cancer. These include: 

  • Neuroendocrine cancers: These are cancers that arise from the endocrine (hormonal) system.
  • Soft-tissue sarcomas: These are cancers that start in muscle tissues such as gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).
  • Small cell cancer: These are more common in the lung, but they can develop in the oesophagus too.
  • Undifferentiated: In this type of cancer the doctors cannot tell if the cancer started in the gland cells (adenocarcinoma) or skin-like cells (squamous cells).

Tests and treatments for these rarer types of oesophageal cancer are different from the treatments we describe here. Your medical team will give you more information or you can call our Support Line nurses on 1800 200 700. 

For more information

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