About Oesophageal Cancer

The oesophagus (food pipe) is a part of the digestive system that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Oesophageal cancer can begin in any part of the oesophagus and most commonly affects people over 60 years. It is a fairly common cancer in the UK and is more common in men than in women. There are two types of oesophageal cancer– squamous cell carcinoma (which begins in the cells that line the oesophagus) and adenocarcinoma (which starts in the glands). Though the exact cause of oesophageal cancer is unknown, some risk factors for this condition include age, obesity, smoking, tobacco use, and medical conditions like Barrett’s oesophagus or GERD (Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease). Oesophageal cancer life expectancy depends upon the cancer stage at the time of diagnosis.


Common symptoms of oesophageal cancer are:

  • Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia).
  • Feeling sick.
  • Acid reflux or heartburn.
  • Excessive burping.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Sudden loss of weight.
  • Persistent chronic cough.
  • Fatigue.
  • Pain in the lower part of the throat while swallowing.

Your symptoms will guide your doctor and healthcare team on oesophageal cancer treatment options that can be used for you. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your GP today!


If your doctor suspects oesophageal cancer, they will take a detailed medical and family history and recommend a few tests. These include:

  • Oesophagoscopy (a type of endoscopy): This test is done using an endoscope to look at the insides of your oesophagus for any abnormal changes or growth.
  • Imaging tests like x-ray with a barium swallow, CT scans and PET scans allow your doctor to see the spread of cancer to nearby organs and distant tissues.

Other tests that may be required are routine blood tests, chest x-ray, endoscopic ultrasound and laparoscopy. Your test results take a few days to arrive, and it is natural to feel anxious and apprehensive about them. If you have been told you have oesophageal cancer, you may require a camera test that gives your doctor an idea about the stage and spread of your cancer. Your diagnosis test results also enable your doctor to determine how to treat oesophageal cancer.


Your oesophageal cancer treatment options depend upon factors like the stage and spread of cancer. Standard treatment options include:

  • Surgery: This first line of treatment for early-stage oesophageal cancer during which the affected part of the oesophagus is removed.


  • Chemotherapy: This treatment uses powerful drugs to kill cancer cells and may be used before or after surgery. Side effects of chemotherapy and oesophageal cancer are common causes of anxiety. However, it is one of the most effective treatments for this cancer. 


  • Radiation therapy: High-energy x-rays are used to kill cancer cells in this treatment. Radiation therapy is useful in treating early stages and advanced stage 3 and stage 4 oesophageal cancer.


  • Combination therapy: In some oesophageal cancer cases, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be the primary treatment.


Some advanced stages of oesophageal cancer may require targeted drug therapy.

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