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Esophageal Cancer

Our Approach

MD Anderson gives you comprehensive, exemplary esophageal cancer care every step of the way – from diagnosis to treatment and follow-up. We customize your care using a team approach that brings together a group of experts to focus on you.

These experts have at their fingertips the latest technology and techniques to diagnose and treat esophageal cancer, including minimally invasive surgery and one of the most-advanced proton therapy centers in the nation.

Specialized Expertise

MD Anderson's dedicated esophageal cancer team is one of the few in the United States. We treat hundreds of patients with newly diagnosed cancer each year. Studies have shown a link between the number of patients treated and successful outcomes, and we have one of the most-active programs in the nation.

You are followed by a team of highly specialized physicians and support specialists – all with extensive experience in esophageal cancer care. The surgeons, medical oncologists and radiation oncologists have dedicated their careers to the treatment of esophageal cancer.

Innovative Techniques

We are especially proud of our minimally invasive surgery capabilities, including an endoscopic mucosal resection program for patients with very early stage esophageal cancer. Minimally invasive procedures often are able to preserve the function of the esophagus and stomach and avoid the need for radical surgery. This allows you to retain higher levels of function and quality of life.

We're often able to provide hope for advanced esophageal cancer that might not be available elsewhere, including therapies that deliver maximum effectiveness with the least impact on your body.

Groundbreaking Research, Comprehensive Care

As one of the world's largest cancer research centers, MD Anderson is leading investigation into new methods of esophageal cancer diagnosis and treatment. You benefit from the most advanced research, conducted by some of the nation's top scientists.

And at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's largest and most experienced comprehensive cancer centers, which has all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.

If you have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, we're here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Innovative esophageal cancer treatments including proton therapy, minimally invasive surgery, photodynamic therapy and targeted therapies
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection for early stage disease
  • One of the most-active programs in the country
  • Advanced diagnostic tools including video endoscopy
  • Clinical trials of new therapies

Esophageal Cancer Knowledge Center

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Esophageal Cancer Facts

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 16,000 Americans are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year. It affects men much more often than women. Middle-aged men who are overweight with a history of acid reflux (heartburn) seem to be at the highest risk. Because the disease often has no symptoms in the early stages, it is usually detected at a more advanced stage that is more challenging to treat.

The esophagus is a foot-long tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach. Its lining has several layers. Esophageal cancer begins in the cells of the inside lining. It then grows into the channel of the esophagus and the esophageal wall.

A sphincter, a special muscle that relaxes to let food in or out, is on each end of the esophagus. The one at the top lets food or liquid into the esophagus. The one on the bottom lets food enter the stomach.

Acid Reflux Raises Risk

This sphincter also prevents stomach contents from refluxing (coming) back into the esophagus. If stomach juices with acid and bile come into the esophagus, it causes indigestion or heartburn. Reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are the medical names for heartburn.

If you have reflux for a long time, the cells at the end of the esophagus change to become more like the cells in the intestinal lining. This is called Barrett’s esophagus, and it is a pre-malignant condition. This means it can become esophageal cancer and needs to be watched closely.

Esophageal Cancer Types

The types of esophageal cancer are named after the cells where they begin.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of esophageal cancer in western societies, especially in white males. It starts in gland cells in the tissue, most often in the lower part of the esophagus near the stomach. The major risk factors include reflux and Barrett’s esophagus.

Squamous cell carcinoma or cancer, also called epidermoid carcinoma, begins in the tissue that lines the esophagus, particularly in the middle and upper parts. In the United States, this type of esophageal cancer is on the decline. Risk factors include smoking and drinking alcohol.

This is the most common type of esophageal cancer worldwide. In other countries, including Iran, northern China, India and southern Africa, this type of esophageal cancer is much more common than in the United States.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center