Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus. The esophagus is a muscular tube that moves food and liquids from the throat to the stomach.
The most common types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma begins in flat cells lining the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma begins in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.
Smoking and heavy alcohol use increase the risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. Gastroesophageal reflux disease and Barrett esophagus may increase the risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.
Esophageal cancer is often diagnosed at an advanced stage because there are no early signs or symptoms.