NCCN Guidelines for Patients
Esophageal Cancer, Version 1.2016
Esophageal cancer basics
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
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
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