In 2019, 9,296 cases of oesophageal cancer were diagnosed in the UK*. Oesophageal cancer affects men disproportionately – almost 6,500 of those cases were men, with less than 3,000 in women.
What is oesophageal cancer?
The oesophagus is also known as the gullet or foodpipe. It’s a tube that carries food and drink from your throat to your stomach. It’s found between the windpipe and the spine.
In an adult, the oesophagus is roughly 25–30cm (10–12 inches) long and cancer can develop anywhere along its length.
There are two main types of oesophageal cancer:
squamous cell carcinoma – found in the cells that line the upper part of the oesophagus and makes up about a third of cases of oesophageal cancer in the UK.
adenocarcinoma – develops in cells that make mucus and other fluids in the lower part of the oesophagus. The number of cases of adenocarcinoma has increased in the last 20 years and they make up about two-thirds of cases of oesophageal cancer in the UK.
There are lots of different reasons why oesophageal cancer develops – some of the most important are your diet and lifestyle choices.
Who is most at risk of oesophageal cancer?
As with all cancers, the risk of developing oesophageal cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person.
Age – risk increases as you get older. You are unlikely to develop oesophageal cancer if you are under 40
Gender – oesophageal cancer affects twice as many men as women
Gastric reflux – acid from the stomach travelling up into the oesophagus can lead to a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus (where cells in the lower oesophagus change to become resistant to acid). This increases your risk, particularly of oesophageal adenocarcinoma