The most common first symptom of oesophageal cancer is difficulty swallowing, with a feeling that food is getting stuck somewhere between the back of the mouth and behind the lower part of the breast bone (sternum). Painful swallowing is a less common symptom.
Patients can also develop a loss of weight, loss of appetite, or tiredness due to an unknown low blood count. However these symptoms often occur after the initial symptom of difficulty swallowing is already present. When people have these other symptoms and then are found to have oesophageal cancer, in retrospect there was some difficulty swallowing but some people unfortunately ignore these earlier symptoms.
The important message is that if anyone is having difficulty swallowing, particularly initially with food like fresh bread or chunks of meat getting stuck, it is important to discuss this with your doctor soon and it may be pertinent to undergo an endoscopy (camera into the upper gut) to rule out cancer. If you wait till your swallowing problem progresses, it will probably be much harder to treat the cancer at this later stage.
It is also important to note that ‘early’ oesophageal cancer does NOT have symptoms, and hence if anyone has a risk factor for oesophageal cancer, such as many many years of untreated acid reflux, then an endoscopy (camera into the oesophagus) may also be indicated to rule out cancer or pre-cancer, and then the acid reflux should also be treated.
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