The most common symptoms of oesophageal cancer include:
- difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- persistent indigestion or heartburn
- weight loss
- pain in your throat or behind your breastbone
- a cough that won't go away
There are many other conditions that cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than oesophageal cancer.
Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
You may feel pain or a burning sensation when you swallow, or your food may stick in your throat or chest.
This is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer.
A harmless narrowing of the oesophagus called a stricture can also make it difficult for you to swallow. It is important to get this symptom checked by your doctor.
Persistent acid indigestion or heartburn
You can get indigestion when acid from the stomach goes back up (refluxes) into the oesophagus or if the stomach is inflamed or irritated.
The valve between the stomach and oesophagus normally stops this from happening. The valve is called the cardiac sphincter. A tumour that develops here can stop the valve working, causing indigestion.
Remember that indigestion is common and it's not usually caused by cancer. It can be very painful, even when there's nothing seriously wrong.
See your doctor if you’ve had heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more, even if you’re taking medicine and it seems to help. Heartburn is burning chest pain or discomfort that happens after eating.
You may be put off eating if you find it hard to swallow or have pain when you swallow your food. This can make you lose weight.
Rarely, extreme weight loss can be a sign of an advanced cancer.
Food coming back up
You may regurgitate food – this is when food comes back up soon after you swallow it. It usually starts with food like meat and bread. You may start to bring up soft foods such as mashed potato, drinks and saliva if you don't have treatment.
Pain in your throat or behind your breastbone
You may feel pain in the centre of your chest, or more rarely in your back or shoulder. This can get worse when you swallow or have indigestion.
Your voice can become raspy or croaky. It's not a common symptom and can be caused by other harmless conditions.
A cough that won't go away or that happens when you try to eat can be caused by oesophageal cancer.
Coughing up blood
You may cough up blood or have blood in your vomit (or food that you bring back up) if your oesophagus is bleeding. This isn't common.
Your poo may be darker – almost black – if cancer is making your oesophagus bleed. This is uncommon. You can get darker poo if you're taking iron tablets.