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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are the symptoms of oesophageal cancer?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 2


    Janice Bartley

    Massage Therapist, Western Herbal Medicine Practitioner

    Janice Bartley is a university qualified Medical Herbalist who fosters an evidence-based integrative approach to healthcare. Integrative healthcare focuses on the complexities of each individual’s … View Profile

    Oesophageal cancer often does not cause any symptoms in the early stages. As the disease progresses it can make swallowing painful and difficult, it can also cause chest pain, loss of appetite and weight loss, involuntary regurgitation, swelling of lymph nodes in the neck and sometimes a persistent cough. In very advanced stages vocal cord paralysis can occur and the disease may cause people to cough up blood.

    People are at a higher risk of developing oesophageal cancer if they have a medical diagnosis of Plummer-Vinson Syndrome, Barrett’s oesophagus or achalasia (a disorder affecting the ability of the oesophagus to move food toward the stomach). Smokers and heavy drinkers are also at an increased risk.

    The risk of developing oesophageal cancer can be decreased by not smoking and by limiting alcohol consumption. Up to 1 hour of moderate activity or 30 minutes of vigorous activity daily is recommended to cut your cancer risk.

    If you are experiencing any abnormal symptoms you should consult your GP immediately.

    If you feel you may be at an increased risk of developing oesophageal cancer - or any other type of cancer - seek out a healthcare provider who can help you formulate a prevention plan. Prevention is the best cure for cancer!

  • 2


    Dr Salena Ward

    Bariatric (Obesity) Surgeon, General Surgeon, Upper GI Surgeon (Abdominal)

    I am a specialist Upper Gastrointestinal (gut) Surgeon, who performs surgery for weight loss, tumours of stomach and oesophagus, reflux, hiatus hernia and gallstones. I … View Profile

    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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