What Are the Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer?

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  • Written By: Helena Reimer
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 28 December 2018
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Esophageal cancer, also known as oesophageal cancer, affects the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that transports food into the stomach. The symptoms of esophageal cancer normally do not appear until the later stages of the malignancy. Coughing, vomiting, and unwanted weight loss are common symptoms and can easily be mistaken for other illnesses. Other common symptoms of esophageal cancer include dysphagia, chest pains, and heartburn.

There are two types of esophageal cancers, known as squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell cancer develops in the lining of the esophagus and normally affects the upper part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma develops in nearby glandular tissues and normally affects the lower esophagus.

Dysphagia, one of the most common symptoms of esophageal cancer, occurs when the cancerous tumor begins to obstruct the esophagus. The obstruction interferes with the food going down and can cause some of it to remain in the esophagus or to come back up. The tumor can also make it difficult and painful to swallow chunky foods. As a result, individuals often turn to softer foods in order to reduce the pain. In severe cases, the tumor can obstruct the esophagus to the point where not even soft foods or liquids can pass through.


Unwanted weight loss is another common symptom, as the individual is unable to consume the proper nutrients in order to maintain a healthy weight. Another possible reason for the weight loss might be a direct result of the cancer because it has the ability to reduce appetite. Chest and back pain are also symptoms of esophageal cancer. The patients might feel a discomfort or an excess amount of pressure within the chest. A burning sensation similar to gastroesophageal reflux disease is also common.

Other symptoms of esophageal cancer include a hoarse voice and a chronic cough, which occur when the cancer affects the recurrent laryngeal nerve. The cancerous tumor can also affect the peristalsis of the esophagus and thus lead to coughing, nausea, and vomiting. In some cases, the tumor might start to bleed, which can cause the individual to bring up blood. The blood can also end up in the stool, resulting in an unusual dark stool.

Fistulas, which are abnormal passages or ducts, can form between the esophagus and the trachea. This condition increases the risk for pneumonia and can result in symptoms such as fevers and coughing up fluids. Other symptoms of esophageal cancer include high blood calcium levels and hiccups.



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