Symptoms of oesophageal cancer 

When oesophageal cancer first develops it rarely causes any symptoms as the tumour is very small. It is only when the cancer starts to become larger and more advanced that symptoms start to develop.

Difficulty swallowing

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer.

As the tumour narrows your oesophagus it becomes more difficult for food to pass down. There may be pain or a burning sensation when you swallow (odynophagia), or it can feel as if food is getting stuck.

You may find you have to chew your food more thoroughly, or you can only eat soft foods. If the tumour continues to grow even liquids may be difficult to swallow.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of oesophageal cancer include:

  • weight loss – which could be caused by difficulties swallowing, the cancer’s harmful effects on your body or a combination of both
  • persistent indigestion (dyspepsia)
  • pain or discomfort in your chest or your back, usually between the shoulder blades
  • hoarseness
  • persistent cough
  • vomiting
  • coughing blood

When to seek medical advice

You should contact your GP if you experience any swallowing difficulties, or any other unusual or persistent symptoms.

Your symptoms are unlikely to be related to oesophageal cancer but it is important to get them checked out.

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Page last reviewed: 30/06/2014

Next review due: 30/06/2016