Ricker Polsdorfer, MD
If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to cancer. Most of these symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your doctor.
Esophageal cancer may cause:
—Progressive difficulty or pain while swallowing. You have the sensation that food is sticking in your chest or throat.
—Any irritation of the breathing tubes may cause a cough.
—Food, fluids, and stomach acids can sometimes be ingested into the lungs. Aspiration causes violent coughing. A complication of aspiration is
—At least half of esophageal cancer patients have lost significant weight by the time they are diagnosed.
—In addition to pain from obstructed swallowing, the cancer may cause pain by creating a lesion in the lining of the esophagus or by invading sensitive nearby structures.
—You may vomit blood that has oozed from the cancer into your esophagus or stomach.
Tarry, black stools
—These are the result of bleeding in the upper digestive tract. The blood turns black as it passes through the intestines.
Fatigue and paleness
—Chronic loss of blood due to the cancer may first appear as
—A nerve in the chest that controls your vocal cords may stop working when the cancer invades it, resulting in a hoarse voice. This is called laryngeal nerve palsy.
—The cancer may erode an opening, or fistula, between the esophagus and the airway, causing food to enter the lungs (aspiration) and leading to pneumonia.
—This symptom may appear suddenly, indicating that cancer has moved into the chest cavity.
Esophageal cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what. Updated June 2, 2013. Accessed August 2, 2013.
Esophageal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.nci.nih.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/esophagus. Accessed August 2, 2013.
Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at
http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003098-pdf.pdf. Accessed August 2, 2013.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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