Types of oesophageal cancer

Knowing the type of oesophageal cancer you have helps the doctor to plan your treatment. There are two main types of oesophageal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma – this develops in the thin, flat cells of the mucosa , which line the oesophagus.
  • Adenocarcinoma – this develops in the glandular cells of the submucosa.

A cancer can develop anywhere along the length of the oesophagus. Cancers in the upper oesophagus are nearly always squamous cell cancers. Most cancers in the middle of the oesophagus are squamous cell cancers. Most cancers in the lower oesophagus, including the junction where the oesophagus joins the stomach, are adenocarcinomas.

Over 95% (95 out of 100) of oesophageal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas or adenocarcinomas.

There are other, rarer, types of oesophageal cancer. These include poorly differentiated neuroendocrine cancer, small cell cancer, and soft tissue sarcomas such as gastro-intestinal stromal tumours (GISTs).

The tests and treatments for these rarer types of cancer are different from the ones we describe in this section. Our cancer information specialists can give you more information. You can call them on 0808 808 00 00.

Back to Understanding oesophageal cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

The oesophagus

The oesophagus (gullet) is part of the digestive system. It connects the mouth to the stomach.