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Oesophageal Cancer

About the Oesophagus

The oesophagus, or ‘food pipe’, carries food from the mouth to the stomach. It is about 26 cm long in adults and passes through the chest, behind the windpipe and the heart. The oesophagus has three main sections – the upper, middle and lower. It carries food and liquids to the stomach using waves of muscle contractions.

The wall of the oesophagus has several layers (the mucosa, sub-mucosa and muscularis) that help to push food down towards the stomach. Glands in the wall produce mucus to help food slide down more easily when swallowing. The oesophagus joins to the top part of the stomach (called the cardia) where a valve (the gastro-oesophageal sphincter) keeps the stomach contents from coming back up into the oesophagus.

​Oesophageal Cancer

Oesophageal Cancer can develop anywhere along the length of the oesophagus but it most commonly arises in the lower third, towards the stomach end. There are two main types of oesophageal cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma is cancer that begins in cells that produce and release mucus and other fluids most often in the lower part of the oesophagus near the stomach.
  • Squamous cell is cancer that begins in flat cells lining the oesophagus

Click here if you would like to know about the statistics relating to oesophageal cancer

There are around 375 new diagnoses of oesophageal cancer each year in New Zealand and sadly, 5-year survival rates remain below 20%. We know that these rates increase the earlier the cancer is found and can be as high as 47% if the tumor is discovered at an early stage.

Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus than women and Māori experience both higher rates of incidence and approximately 40% higher mortality that non-Māori.

Information on these pages was collated with grateful assistance from the PanCare Foundation.

DISCLAIMER: Information provided by the Gut Cancer Foundation should be discussed with your healthcare professional and is not a substitute for their advice, diagnosis, treatment, or other healthcare services. In some cases, information has been gathered from Australian sources and should be discussed with New Zealand health care professionals.

Oesophageal Cancer Stories

Oesophageal Cancer Trials and Research

THYmine 2

5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) is one of the most common chemotherapy drugs used in the treatment of oesophageal cancer. However, every year hundreds of Kiwis suffer debilitating, and potentially life-threatening toxicity from 5FU Chemotherapy treatment. THYmine 2 is investigating a new test that could identify at-risk patients before they start their treatment. Thanks to Gut Cancer Foundation supporters, we have funded the vital role of the clinical trials manager.


574 patients across 70 sites in 8 countries and 3 continents have been recruited to the TopGear clinical trial. TopGear is a vital trial to determine the best combination of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery to improve cure rates for patients with gastric (stomach and oesophageal) cancer. After 12 years, TopGear has completed patient recruitment.

Thanks to Gut Cancer Foundation supporters, New Zealanders have had access to this trial and the support has ensured New Zealand has played an important role in this international collaboration. The length and breadth of TopGear shows just how complex it can be to successfully create and recruit to clinical trials.

Our colleagues at the Australasian Gastro-Intestinal Trials Group (AGITG) have done an incredible job to bring this trial to completion, and we are grateful to our supporters for helping New Zealand play its part.

With the trial moving into its final stages, we look forward to keeping you updated with the trial’s findings as results are made available.

For more information on this trial and others being enabled by your support, click here.