Symptoms of oesophageal cancer | Cancer Research UK
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Symptoms of oesophageal cancer

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

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Pain or discomfort in the throat or behind the breastbone
  • Acid indigestion
  • A hoarse voice
  • A cough that won't go away
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing up blood
  • Darker poo

Remember that conditions other than oesophageal cancer can cause these symptoms. But tell your doctor if you have any symptoms that don't go away or get worse.


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Difficulty swallowing

This is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer. There may be some pain, such as 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 also 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.

Visiting the GP


Food coming back up

Food may come back up 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 bring back up 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 in the throat or behind the breastbone

Cancer of the oesophagus can sometimes cause pain or discomfort in the throat or soreness behind the breastbone.


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 that 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.



If you have a hoarse voice all the time, it may be a warning sign of oesophageal cancer.


Chronic cough

A cough that won’t go away or that happens when you try to eat can sometimes be due to oesophageal cancer.


Coughing up blood

Oesophageal cancers sometimes bleed, although this is not common. If you are coughing up blood, or if there is blood in your vomit (or food that you bring back up), see your doctor.


Darker poo

If the cancer is making the oesophagus bleed you may have darker poo than usual, due to the presence of blood. This is an uncommon symptom of oesophageal cancer.


What to do if you have symptoms

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: 24 June 2015