• Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

    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 physician.
    Symptoms of esophageal cancer include the following:
    Dysphagia —This involves trouble swallowing; usually you have the sensation that food is sticking in your chest or throat. There may also be pain with swallowing.
    Cough —Any irritation of the breathing tubes may cause a cough.
    Aspiration —Food that gets stuck in the esophagus is very likely to come back up and find its way into the lungs, which is called aspiration. Aspiration causes violent coughing and possibly pneumonia .
    Weight loss —In addition to the usual weight loss that accompanies cancer (known as cancer cachexia), your reduced ability to eat magnifies this symptom in esophageal cancer. At least half of esophageal cancer patients have lost significant weight by the time they are diagnosed.
    Pain —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.
    Vomiting blood —You may vomit blood that has oozed from the cancer into your esophagus or stomach.
    Tarry, black bowel movements —These are the result of bleeding in the upper digestive tract. The blood turns black as it passes through the intestines.
    Anemia —Chronic loss of blood due to the cancer may first appear as anemia. If you have anemia, you'll feel exhausted and be pale in color.
    Laryngeal nerve palsy —A nerve in the chest that controls your vocal cords may stop working when the cancer invades it, resulting in a hoarse voice.
    Fistula —The cancer may erode an opening between the esophagus and the airway, causing food to enter the lungs (aspiration) and leading to pneumonia.


    Esophageal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.nci.nih.gov/cancerinfo/wyntk/esophagus . Accessed December 2, 2002.

    Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. McGraw-Hill; 1998.

    Neoplasms of the esophagus. American Cancer Society website. Available at http://www.cancer.org/docroot/home/index.asp . Accessed November 30, 2002.

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