Esophageal Cancer Health Center

Esophageal cancer begins in cells in the inner layer of the esophagus. Over time, the cancer may invade more deeply into the esophagus and nearby tissues.

Cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor. They may enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, which branch into all the tissues of the body. The cancer cells may attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors that may damage those tissues. The spread of cancer cells is called metastasis. See the Staging section for information about esophageal cancer that has spread.

Growths in the wall of the esophagus can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). The smooth inner wall may have an abnormal rough area, an area of tiny bumps, or a tumor. Benign growths are not as harmful as malignant growths:

Benign growths:

  • are rarely a threat to life
  • can be removed and probably won't grow back
  • don't invade the tissues around them
  • don't spread to other parts of the body

Malignant growths:

  • may be a threat to life
  • sometimes can be removed but can grow back
  • can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs
  • can spread to other parts of the body
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 27, 2012
Last Updated:
July 1, 2013