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Types of oesophageal cancer

Men and women discussing non oesophageal cancer

This page has information on the different types of cancer of the oesophagus (food pipe). You can find the following

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Squamous cell carcinoma

Carcinoma just means cancer. This cancer starts in squamous cells. These make up the skin like lining of the oesophagus. More than a quarter of the oesophageal cancers diagnosed are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer is found mainly in the upper third and middle of the oesophagus.

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma means a cancer that starts in gland cells. In oesophageal cancer, these are the cells that make mucus in the lining of the oesophagus. This type of cancer now makes up more than half of all oesophageal cancers diagnosed and is increasing. This is the type of cancer most associated with acid reflux and the condition called Barrett’s oesophagus.

Undifferentiated cancer of the oesophagus

Undifferentiated means the pathologist cannot tell what type of cell the cancer started from. So they can't say whether the cancer started from gland cells (adenocarcinoma) or skin cells (squamous cell).

Rare types of oesophageal cancer

Rarely, a lump in the oesophagus can be a gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST). This section of the website is not about this type of tumour. If you are looking for information on GISTs, go to the section on soft tissue sarcoma.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about oesophageal cancer section.

 

 

Squamous cell carcinoma

Carcinoma just means cancer. This cancer starts in the cells of the skin like lining of the oesophagus. More than a quarter of the oesophageal cancers diagnosed are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer is found mainly in the upper third and middle of the oesophagus. It develops in the squamous cells that make up the inner lining of the oesophagus. These cells are resistant to hot liquids and sharp foods and can heal quickly if damaged. But the more they are damaged, the more new cells have to be made and the more chance there is that cells may gradually change into cancer cells.

 

Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma means a cancer that has started in gland cells. In oesophageal cancer, these are the cells that make mucus in the lining of the oesophagus. The number of adenocarcinomas has increased in the last 30 years. They now make up just over a half of all oesophageal cancers diagnosed. Adenocarcinomas are found mainly in the lower third of the oesophagus. This is the type of cancer that is most associated with acid reflux and Barrett’s oesophagus.

 

Undifferentiated cancer

Undifferentiated means the specialist cannot tell what type of cell the cancer started from. Sometimes, cancer cells look very undeveloped under the microscope. The cells are not mature enough to be at all specialised. So the pathologist cannot say whether the cancer started from gland cells (adenocarcinoma) or skin like cells (squamous cell).

Specialisation of cells is called differentiation. So these primitive cancer cells are known as undifferentiated cancer cells. You may see 'undifferentiated carcinoma of the oesophagus' written in your medical reports if you have this type of oesophageal cancer.

 

Rare types of oesophageal cancer

Rarely, a lump in the oesophagus can be a gastro intestinal stromal tumour (sometimes shortened to GIST). When they grow in the oesophagus, they may be non cancerous (benign) tumours or cancerous (malignant) tumours. This section of the website is not about GISTs. If you are looking for information on this type of tumour, go to the information about GIST in the soft tissue sarcoma section.

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Updated: 26 March 2014