Symptoms of esophageal cancer

Esophageal cancer may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear as the cancer thickens the wall of the esophagus. Esophageal tumours can also cause symptoms if they grow large enough to block the esophagus or the opening to the stomach, or if they grow into surrounding tissues and organs. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as esophageal cancer.

The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is having problems swallowing (dysphagia). Other signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • weight loss
  • painful swallowing
  • pain in the throat, chest (behind the breast bone) or back
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • bringing up undigested food
  • hoarseness
  • cough
  • nausea or vomiting
  • hiccups
  • malaise

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Esophagus Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2013.
  • Esophageal cancer treatment options. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Cancer.Net. Alexandria, VA.: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); 2013.
  • Baldwin, K.M. et al . Esophageal cancer. Omaha: eMedicine, Inc; 2014.
  • BC Cancer Agency. Esophagus. Vancouver: BC Cancer Agency; 2012.
  • Esophageal and esophagogastric junction. BC Cancer Agency (BCCA). Cancer Management Guidelines. BC Cancer Agency; 2013.
  • Oesophageal cancer. Cancer Research UK. CancerHelp UK. Cancer Research UK; 2014.
  • Dellon ES & Shaheen NJ . Esophageal cancer: epidemiology, screening, and prevention. Kelsen, D. P., Daly, J. M., Kern, S. E., Levin, B., Tepper, J. E., & Van Cutsem, E. (eds.). Principles and Practice of Gastrointestinal Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2008: 14: pp. 157-165.
  • Leichman L, Bodnar LM, Arshad II . Esophageal Carcinoma. Pollock, R. E., Doroshow, J. H. & Khayat, D. et al. (Eds.). UICC Manual of Clinical Oncology. 8th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2004: 19: pp. 429-446.
  • National Cancer Institute. Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Patient Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2013.
  • National Cancer Institute. Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2014.
  • Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancers. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. National Comprehensive Cancer Network; 2013.
  • Posner, MC, Minsky BD, & Ilson DH . Cancer of the esophagus. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 79: pp. 887-923.