About this disease

What it is about

Esophageal cancer is a rather rare disease in Switzerland, with men being affected more frequently than women. Risk factors include smoking and heavy alcohol consumption. The so-called Barrett's esophagus is a preliminary stage of esophageal cancer. In this case, the squamous cells of the esophagus change, triggered by chronic irritation by acidic stomach contents.


In the upper part of the esophagus, where by far the most common esophageal carcinomas occur, so-called squamous cell carcinomas are found. In the lower part of the esophagus, adenocarcinomas are more likely to occur, i.e., tumor cells that arise from glandular tissue and behave similarly to gastric carcinomas. A small proportion of esophageal carcinomas are caused by undifferentiated carcinomas, in which the original cell type from which the tumor developed can no longer be determined.

Symptoms and consequences

Symptoms of esophageal cancer usually only appear when the disease is already very advanced. Changes in the esophagus can lead to difficulty swallowing and weight loss. If adjacent organs are affected, hoarseness, coughing or foreign body sensations with throat clearing or increased salivation may occur.

What we do for you

Examination and diagnosis

Often, esophageal carcinomas or their precursors are detected as an incidental finding during a gastroscopy by a gastroenterologist. If you have clinical symptoms, your primary care physician may order such an examination. A computed tomography (CT) scan or positron emission tomography (PET-CT) scan will determine if the esophageal cancer has spread and if distant metastases are present.


In our interdisciplinary tumor case discussion, the so-called tumor board, the appropriate treatment strategy is determined. Depending on the size, location and extent of the carcinoma, surgery is usually recommended, if necessary in combination with chemotherapy. In certain cases, only radio-chemotherapy may be considered. Esophageal carcinomas with metastases in other organs (distant metastases) can no longer be cured. However, good temporary control of the disease can be achieved with palliative chemotherapy.

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