Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

Cancer of the oesophagus starts in the tube that goes from your throat to your stomach. The mucosa, which is the inside lining of the oesophagus, is where tumours start.There are two kinds of esophageal cancer, and the risk factors for each are different.


Adenocarcinomas are cancers that start in gland cells at the bottom of the oesophagus. Most people with esophageal cancer have this kind. Most of the time, it happens near the stomach. Adenocarcinoma esophageal cancer is more likely to happen if you have chronic acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), Barrett’s oesophagus, or chronic heartburn.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This type of esophageal cancer starts in squamous cells, which are mostly found in the upper part of the oesophagus. Squamous cell tumours are linked to drinking a lot of alcohol, smoking, and getting organ transplants.

What causes esophageal cancer

Factors that can increase your risk of esophageal cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Chronic heartburn or acid reflux
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that sometimes develops in people with GERD
  • Achalasia, a rare disorder of muscles in the lower esophagus

What are the symptoms of esophageal cancer

Most signs of esophageal cancer don’t show up until the cancer is in a late stage, when it may be hard to treat. Esophageal cancer symptoms could also be caused by other, more common diseases. If you think you might be at risk, it’s important to get a correct diagnosis from a doctor.

Trouble Swallowing

When someone has esophageal cancer, the most common sign is trouble swallowing, especially a feeling that food is stuck in the chest. For some patients, food can also cause them to choke. As the cancer grows, these symptoms get worse over time, and swallowing becomes more painful as your oesophagus gets smaller.

If you have recently changed the way you eat to avoid having trouble swallowing, such as by taking smaller bites, eating softer food, or not eating solid food at all, your doctor may want to do a screening exam.

Chronic Chest Pain

If you suffer from chronic heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you’re already familiar with a pain that feels like burning in the middle of your chest. That painful sensation may become more noticeable when esophageal cancer develops. Esophageal cancer may also cause chest pain a few seconds after swallowing, when food or liquid reaches the site of the tumor in the esophagus.

Weight Loss Without Trying

Roughly 50 percent of people with esophageal cancer experience unexplained weight loss. This can be due to eating less due to swallowing problems or a decreased appetite due to the cancer.

Persistent Coughing or Hoarseness

Developing a hoarse, scratchy voice or a cough that doesn’t go away can also indicate the presence of esophageal cancer.

How is esophageal cancer diagnosed

Esophageal cancer is often not found until it is in its later stages. For the best possible outcome, it is especially important to be accurate when diagnosing and staging the disease. A doctor who specialises in diseases of the digestive system, called a gastroenterologist, may be the first health care provider to notice the signs of esophageal cancer. If you have any signs of esophageal cancer, you should get treatment as soon as possible while the cancer is still treatable.

There are several types of tests to diagnose esophageal cancer. The most common tests are:

  • Endoscopy with biopsy: Sometimes called an esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD, this is the most common test a doctor will perform to test for esophageal cancer. A doctor uses an endoscope (a flexible tube with an attached camera that allows your doctor to see inside your body) to take tissue samples from abnormal areas (this is also called a biopsy).
  • Endoscopic ultrasonography: If your biopsy results reveal cancer, you doctor may order an endoscopic ultrasound (EUS). This is one of the most accurate imaging procedures for detecting esophageal cancer. EUS combines two procedures to see within your esophagus:
    • Endoscopy, during which your doctor inserts a thin, lighted tube into your body
    • Ultrasound, which uses high-frequency sound waves to obtain detailed images
  • PET scan: A PET scan, or positron emission tomography, technology is used to determine if the cancer has spread to areas beyond the esophagus. A PET scan uses radioactive dye to highlight parts of your body during scanning, so a doctor can see potentially cancerous areas to treat.

Other types of testing, which are less common, include:

  • Barium swallow: A barium swallow, also called an esophagram, is an X-ray procedure in which you drink a barium-based solution while a doctor watches how it passes through your esophagus.
  • Video fluoroscopic swallowing exam: This test, also called a VFSE, is similar to a barium swallow. A doctor records a digital movie of your esophagus while you swallow. Learn more about fluoroscopy.
  • Endoscopic confocal microscopy: This technology uses laser technology to provide immediate results without a biopsy or pathology.
  • CT scan: A CT scan, or computed tomography scan, is an imaging test that’s commonly used after cancer is diagnosed. It allows doctors to see how locally advanced the tumor is or whether it has spread beyond the esophagus.

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