Esophageal CancerRSS

Last Updated: March 04, 2016

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What is esophageal cancer?

The two most common types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell, which arises in the flat cells lining the esophagus, and adenocarcinoma, which arises in the cells that release mucus and other fluids. Researchers with The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) are studying both types. Esophageal cancer is the 18th most common cancer type, with an estimated 16,980 new cases in 2015,1 representing 1% of all new cancer cases in the United States.

Esophageal cancer is three to four times more common in men than in women, and the risk of development is higher with age.2 Within esophageal cancers, the two different types, squamous cell and adenocarcinoma, are associated with different risk factors. The risk of developing squamous cell esophageal cancer is increased by tobacco smoking and heavy drinking. Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is associated with the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus in disorders such as gastroesophageal reflux disease and Barret’s esophagus.

The rates for new esophageal cancers in the United States has been falling by an average of 1.2 % each year over the last 10 years. However, esophageal cancer tends to be diagnosed at an advanced stage because it is often undetected until major symptoms appear, leading to a low 5 year survival rate of 29.3% between 2005 and 2011. Esophageal cancer is treated with a combination of therapies that may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, or endoscopic treatments.

View additional information on esophageal cancer.

What have The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) researchers learned about esophageal cancer?

TCGA researchers have:

  • Found significant molecular differences between the two most common types of esophageal cancer, esophageal adenocarcinoma and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, that may help improve how they are classified
    • Esophageal squamous cell carcinomas shared more genetic features with head and neck squamous cell carcinomas than with esophageal adenocarcinomas and may therefore benefit from similar therapeutic approaches to head and neck squamous cell carcinomas
    • Esophageal adenocarcinomas contained molecular changes that were nearly indistinguishable from a particular subtype of stomach cancer called the chromosomal instability, or CIN, subtype, described in TCGA’s study of stomach cancer
      • This suggests clinical trials of esophageal adenocarcinomas may be improved by grouping them with CIN stomach cancers
  • Identified genomic alterations that may represent effective targets for therapy
    • Frequent alterations of genes that regulate the cell cycle, which determines the speed of cell growth, may be treated with drugs that have already been developed
    • One third of esophageal adenocarcinomas harbored an alteration to the ERBB2 gene, which encodes the HER2 protein and may be specifically targeted with HER2 inhibitors

Learn more about TCGA's study of esophageal cancer.

Where can I find more information about the TCGA Research Network’s studies?

View a list of TCGA scientific publications.

Where can I find clinical trials to treat esophageal cancers that are supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)?

View a list of NCI-supported esophageal cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients.

Selected References

1SEER Stat Fact Sheets: Esophageal Cancer. National Cancer Institute, Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program.

2What are the key statistics about cancer of the esophagus? The American Cancer Society.