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Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Authors:
  • Amy Scholten, MPH
Publication Type:

Condition InDepth

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Symptoms may not appear until esophageal cancer gets worse. They may include:

Problems Swallowing and Weight Loss

The most common symptoms of esophageal cancer are problems swallowing () and weight loss. Dysphagia may be with or without pain. As food moves down the esophagus, it may feel like the food is stuck. There may be tightness in the chest or throat. Over time, it becomes harder to swallow. Solid foods will be difficult at first, then semi-solid foods, then even liquids.

As eating becomes harder, weight loss occurs.

Problems Swallowing and Weight Loss

The most common symptoms of esophageal cancer are problems swallowing () and weight loss. Dysphagia may be with or without pain. As food moves down the esophagus, it may feel like the food is stuck. There may be tightness in the chest or throat. Over time, it becomes harder to swallow. Solid foods will be difficult at first, then semi-solid foods, then even liquids.

As eating becomes harder, weight loss occurs.

Other Symptoms

Other symptoms may include:

  • Hoarseness—As the cancer grows, it may affect a nerve that controls vocal cords. This can lead to a hoarse voice.
  • Long term cough—From lung irritation or acid reflux.
  • Hiccups—As cancer spreads to the chest, it may press on a nerve. This can cause hiccups.
  • Aspiration—Food, fluids, and stomach acids can be inhaled into the lungs. This causes severe coughing. It can even lead to pneumonia.
  • Pain—Swallowing may become painful over time. Tumors that press on a nerves may cause pain in the belly, chest, or lower back. Cancer that has spread can cause bone pain.
  • Bleeding—There may be bleeding in the digestive tract. It may make stool appear black and tarry. It is also possible to vomit blood.
  • Anemia—Blood loss lowers the number of red blood cells. This may cause severe tiredness.

References

  • Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/esophageal-and-esophagogastric-junction-cancer. Accessed March 15, 2021.
  • Esophageal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/esophageal-cancer. Accessed March 15, 2021.
  • Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003098-pdf.pdf. Accessed Match 15, 2021.
  • General information about esophageal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/patient/esophageal-treatment-pdq#section/all. Accessed March 15, 2021.
  • Short MW, Burgers KG, et al. Esophageal Cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(1):22-28.

Contributors

  • Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated:
2021-01-01

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.