About oesophageal cancer

What is oesophageal cancer?

Oesophageal cancer is a tumour arising in the oesophagus (or “gullet”). The oesophagus is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach.

Types of oesophageal cancer

There are two main types of oesophageal cancer: squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma. These two types of oesophageal cancer look very different under the microscope, and appear to be caused in different ways. Squamous cell cancers are very common in some parts of the world, particularly parts of Asia and southern Africa. Until recently, adenocarcinomas were very rare, but they have become much more common since the 1970s in western, industrialised countries.

How common is oesophageal cancer?

Oesophageal cancer is still a rare disease in Australia, but it is important because it is becoming more common. Each year, about 1000 Australians are diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus.

What are the symptoms of oesophageal cancer?

People with cancer of the oesophagus often have no symptoms until the cancer is very advanced, making early detection very difficult. People usually present to their doctor with difficulty in swallowing, or painful swallowing.

How is oesophageal cancer diagnosed?

Most people with oesophageal cancer are diagnosed by an endoscopy (when a doctor passes a long tube into the gullet to visualise the lining of the oesophagus). Any suspicious areas are biopsied and sent to pathology to be examined under the microscope.

How is oesophageal cancer treated?

The treatment of oesophageal cancer is highly specialised, and is tailored precisely to the needs of the patient. Various types of treatment are available, including surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and endoscopic treatments.
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