Oesophageal Cancer

Oesophageal cancer is a malignant tumour that grows in the oesophagus, the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach. Two different types of cancer affect the oesophagus:

  • Oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is generally found in the upper section of the oesophagus, and begins in the cells that line the oesophagus.   
  • Oesophageal adenocarcinoma (OAC) begins in glandular cells that make and release mucus at the lower section of the oesophagus near the stomach. This is most common type of oesophageal cancer in Australia and western countries, with a trend of increasing incidence over the past 20 years.

Several risk factors have been identified for oesophageal adenocarcinoma, including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), Barrett’s oesophagus, family history of gastrointestinal disorders, older age, obesity, low consumption of fruit and vegetables. Males are more likely than females to be diagnosed with oesophageal adenocarcinoma and die from it.

Barrett’s oesophagus is a condition in which the normal flat-celled (squamous) lining of the oesophagus changes, becoming similar to the glandular tissue that lines the intestine. This change is called metaplasia, which can progress to a more dangerous, pre-cancerous form called dysplasia. In a small number of patients, these changes go on to form oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

While oesophageal cancer is a rare cancer in Australia, with approximately 1,500 new cases each year, unfortunately a similar number of deaths are attributed to oesophageal cancer each year.  

As early oesophageal cancer presents non-specific or no symptoms, most oesophageal cancers are diagnosed at advanced stages when treatment options are limited. As a result, most sufferers die within 12 months of diagnosis.

Therefore, earlier detection and more treatment options are needed to improve outcomes for Australians with oesophageal cancer.



  • developing a blood test for early detection of oesophageal adenocarcinoma by screening high risk population
  • identifying genetic contributions to oesophageal adenocarcinoma
  • exploring the genetic overlap between oesophageal adenocarcinoma and its risk factors Barrett’s oesophagus and gastro-oesophageal reflux disorder
  • studying the gene expression patterns associated with oesophageal cancer to find out how the tumours develop and to look for treatment options
  • profiling the fat molecules in Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal adenocarcinoma tissues, and evaluating their role in cancer development
  • characterising the immune cells in oesophageal tissue during oesophageal adenocarcinoma development