Anatomy of the Esophagus

The esophagus is a tube that makes up part of the digestive tract. It measures about 10 inches long. The esophagus connects the throat with the stomach, carrying the food and liquid you eat from your throat to the stomach. That’s why you often hear it called the food pipe. The esophagus is located behind the windpipe (trachea) and in front of the spine.

When you swallow, the esophagus tightens and relaxes, causing “waves” along the tube. This motion moves food down into the stomach. Glands in the esophagus create mucus to keep the lining moist and to make swallowing easier.

The wall of the esophagus has several layers. The innermost coating is called the mucosa. Squamous cells are one kind of cell found in the mucosa throughout the esophagus. These cells are normally long and flat. Other cells are glandular or adenoid cells. These cells produce mucus and other fluids. They are found mostly in the stomach, but may grow up into the lower part of the esophagus.

The lowest end of the esophagus connects to the stomach. This is called the gastroesophageal junction. Often, this junction is where esophageal adenocarcinoma cancer starts, while squamous cell carcinoma starts anywhere in the esophagus.