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NCCN Guidelines for Patients


Esophageal Cancer, Version 1.2016


Esophageal cancer basics

The esophagus

The esophagus

The digestive system breaks down food for the body

to use. The esophagus is part of this system. It is a

tube-shaped organ, almost 10 inches long, that moves

solids and liquids from your throat to your stomach. It

is located toward the back of your chest just in front

of your spine.

See Figure 1

for a picture of the

esophagus in the body.

The wall of the esophagus has four main layers. The

inner layer that has contact with food is called the

mucosa. It is made of three sublayers—the epithelium,

lamina propria, and muscularis mucosae.

The epithelium is tissue that helps protect the

esophagus from anything swallowed. The lamina

propria contains connective tissue, tiny lymph vessels,

and glands. Lymph is a clear fluid that gives cells

water and food and contains germ-fighting blood cells.

The muscularis mucosae is a thin strip of muscle.

The second layer of the esophageal wall is called the

submucosa. It consists of connective tissue and blood

and nerve cells. It also contains larger lymph vessels.

The third layer is called the muscularis propria. It is

mostly made of muscle fibers. These muscles help

move food down the esophagus.

The fourth layer is called the adventitia. It is mostly

made of connective tissue. It covers the entire

esophagus and connects the esophagus to nearby


Figure 1.

The esophagus

The esophagus moves food and

liquids from your throat to your

stomach. It’s about 10 inches

long. Its wall has four main

layers—the mucosa, submucosa,

muscularis propria, and


Illustration Copyright © 2016 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved.



muscularis propria