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Oesophageal cancer


What is oesophageal cancer?

Oesophageal (also spelt esophageal in the US) cancer begins when abnormal cells develop in the innermost layer (mucosa) of the oesophagus. If it is not found and treated early, oesophageal cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of the body, most commonly the liver and lungs. It can also grow through the oesophageal wall and into nearby structures.

You can access further information about oesophageal cancer, including risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment from Cancer Council Victoria. You can also call our trusted cancer nurses on 13 11 20 for support and to learn about our range of services for people affected by cancer.

The Victorian Cancer Registry also operates an interactive web portal, Data Explorer, which provides more trends and statistics than published here.

How common is oesophageal cancer?

In 2020, 393 Victorians were diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Of these, there were 279 males and 114 females, representing 71% and 29% of the total Victorian oesophageal cancer diagnoses, respectively. Currently, oesophageal cancer is diagnosed at a rate of 4.7 per 100,000 males and 1.5 per 100,000 females. The median age at diagnosis of oesophageal cancer is 70 years in males and 76 in females (Figure 1 & 2). Accounting for 1.1% of all cancers diagnosed and 2.4% of all cancer-related deaths in 2020, oesophageal cancer was the 20th most commonly diagnosed cancer and the 13th most common cause of cancer-related deaths in Victoria.


Figure 1: Distribution of oesophageal cancer incidence in 2020, by sex within age groups

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Figure 2: Distribution of oesophageal cancer incidence in 2020, compared to the distribution of the Victorian population in 2020, by 5-year age brackets

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Oesophageal cancer morphology

Figure 4 provides a summary of the different types of cells (morphology) which have caused oesophageal cancer among all cases. Most oesophageal cancer tumours, 48.7%, present as Adenocarcinoma tumours.


Figure 4: Distribution of oesophageal cancer morphologies between 2011-2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Oesophageal cancer subtypes

Figure 5 provides a breakdown of oesophageal cancer by subsite location in 2020. Most (60.6%) are found in the Lower, including oesophageal-gastric junction section of the oesophagus.


Figure 5: Distribution of oesophageal cancer subsites in 2020

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

Geographical variance in oesophageal cancer by local government area

Figure 6 demonstrates variation in age-standardised incidence rates of oesophageal cancer, by local government areas. Darker shading indicates areas with higher rates of oesophageal cancer.


Figure 6: Variation in the incidence of oesophageal cancer for the period 2016-2020, by location of residence in Victoria

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Oesophageal cancer in people born overseas

Figure 7 shows the age standardised incidence rates of oesophageal cancers in Australian-born Victorians compared to other major migrant groups, over the five-year period 2016 to 2020. The highest age standardised incidence rate for oesophageal cancers was 5.4 for males born in the UK and Ireland region and the lowest rate of 0.6 was observed in males born in the North America region. The highest age standardised incidence rate of oesophageal cancers was 1.8 for females born in the Australia and New Zealand region and the lowest rate of 0.3 was observed in females born in the Africa region.


Figure 7: Age standardised incidence rates and 95% confidence intervals for oesophageal cancer in Victorians born in Australia compared to Victorians born in other countries for the period 2016-2020, by sex

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)


Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)



Oesophageal cancer five-year relative survival

Figure 8 shows the change in 5-year survival for oesophageal cancer, and the 5-year survival trend for all cancers over the same time period. It demonstrates that five-year relative survival has increased for oesophageal cancer between 1985-1989 and 2015-2019 from 10% to 25%.

Figure 8: Trend in five year relative survival following diagnosis of oesophageal cancer in five year brackets, from the period 1985-1989 to 2015-2019

Source: Victorian Cancer Registry (2022)

This webpage was last updated in May 2022