Oesophageal cancer : Symptoms

Oesophageal cancer does not usually have any symptoms at first. But as the cancer grows, it can cause swallowing problems and other symptoms.


Difficulty swallowing

Difficulty swallowing is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer.

The cancer can narrow the oesophagus, making it difficult for food to pass down.

It may feel as though food is getting stuck, and sometimes swallowing may be uncomfortable or painful.

You may have to chew your food more thoroughly, or only be able to eat soft foods.

If the tumour continues to grow, even liquids may become difficult to swallow.

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Other symptoms

Other symptoms of oesophageal cancer can include:

  • persistent indigestion or heartburn
  • bringing up food soon after eating
  • loss of appetite and weight loss
  • persistent vomiting
  • pain or discomfort in your upper tummy, chest or back
  • a persistent cough
  • hoarseness
  • tiredness, shortness of breath and pale skin
  • vomiting blood or coughing up blood (although this is uncommon)

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When to get medical advice

See a GP if you have:

  • swallowing difficulties
  • heartburn on most days for 3 weeks or more
  • any other unusual or persistent symptoms

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

Find out how oesophageal cancer is diagnosed

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