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Symptoms of oesophageal cancer

Men and women discussing non oesophageal cancer

This page is about the possible symptoms of oesophageal cancer. You can find the following information


A quick guide to what's on this page

Symptoms of oesophageal cancer

The symptoms of cancer of the oesophagus (food pipe) include

  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Pain or discomfort in the throat or back
  • Acid indigestion
  • Hoarseness, or a cough that won't go away
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing up blood

Remember, conditions other than oesophageal cancer can cause these symptoms but it is important that you report them to your doctor.

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about oesophageal cancer section.



Difficulty in swallowing

This is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer. There may be some pain in the form of a burning sensation when swallowing food. Or you may feel that your food is sticking in your throat or chest and you can't swallow it. A harmless narrowing of the oesophagus (called a stricture) may cause difficulty in swallowing. But these problems can be due to a tumour or swelling blocking the oesophagus. Either way, it is very important to see your doctor and get them to check out what is causing the symptoms.


Food coming back up

If you are having difficulty getting your food down, it may just come back up again soon after swallowing. This is really more like regurgitating food than being sick. With oesophageal cancer, it is usually hard food that sticks and comes back up at first. But if left untreated, you may start to regurgitate soft foods, drinks and even saliva.


Weight loss

Losing weight is also a common symptom of oesophageal cancer. It may happen because you are having difficulty swallowing or discomfort when eating and this is putting you off your food. In some cases, extreme weight loss can be a sign of an advanced cancer. If you are losing weight and are worried, see your doctor.


Pain or discomfort in the throat or back

Pain or soreness behind the breastbone, or between the shoulder blades, could be caused by cancer of the oesophagus.


Acid indigestion

If you get a lot of acid indigestion, it could be due to a tumour in the oesophagus. A tumour by the valve between the stomach and oesophagus (cardiac sphincter) can stop it from working. This allows acid to track back up into the oesophagus. Some people with cancer of the oesophagus have back or shoulder pain. Or you may have pain in the centre of your chest, which may be worse when you try to swallow or during attacks of indigestion.

Remember - acid indigestion is extremely common and is not usually caused by a cancer in the oesophagus. It can be very painful, even when there is nothing seriously wrong. But it is also a risk factor for getting cancer. So if you have it, see your doctor to get it checked and treated.


Hoarseness, or chronic cough

If you have a hoarse voice all the time, or a cough that won’t go away, it may be a warning sign of oesophageal cancer.


Coughing up blood

Cancers sometimes bleed. If you are coughing up blood, or if there is blood in your vomit (or food that you bring back up), see your doctor.


More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

cancer code - oesophageal cancer

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Updated: 26 March 2014