Oesophageal cancer is a type of cancer affecting the oesophagus (gullet) – the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach.

It mainly affects people in their 60s and 70s and is more common in men than women.

This page covers:


When to get medical advice




Symptoms of oesophageal cancer

Oesophageal cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms in the early stages when the tumour is small. It's only when it gets bigger that symptoms tend to develop.

Symptoms of oesophageal cancer can include:

Read more about the symptoms of oesophageal cancer.

When to get medical advice

See your GP if you experience:

  • swallowing difficulties
  • heartburn on most days for three weeks or more
  • any other unusual or persistent symptoms

The symptoms can be caused by several conditions and in many cases won't be caused by cancer – but it's a good idea to get them checked out.

If your GP thinks you need to have some tests, they can refer you to a hospital specialist.

Read about how oesophageal cancer is diagnosed.

Causes of oesophageal cancer

The exact cause of oesophageal cancer is unknown, but the following things can increase your risk:

  • persistent gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
  • smoking
  • drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time
  • being overweight or obese
  • having an unhealthy diet that's low in fruit and vegetables

Stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, losing weight and having a healthy diet may help reduce your risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Read more about the causes of oesophageal cancer.

Treatments for oesophageal cancer

If oesophageal cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it may be possible to cure it with:

  • surgery to remove the affected section of oesophagus
  • chemotherapy, with or without radiotherapy (chemoradiation), to kill the cancerous cells and shrink the tumour

If oesophageal cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, a cure may not be achievable.

But in these cases, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be used to help keep the cancer under control and relieve any symptoms you have.

Read more about how oesophageal cancer is treated and living with oesophageal cancer.

Outlook for oesophageal cancer

The outlook for oesophageal cancer varies depending on things such as how far it has spread, your age and your general health.

If it's detected while it's still quite small, it may be possible to get rid of it completely.

But as oesophageal cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms until a late stage, it has often spread quite far by the time it's diagnosed.

Cancer Research UK has more information about oesophageal cancer survival statistics.

Page last reviewed: 04/07/2016

Next review due: 04/07/2019