Esophageal Cancer: Symptoms and Signs

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 03/2018

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about body changes and other things that can signal a problem that may need medical care. Use the menu to see other pages.

People with esophageal cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes, people with esophageal cancer do not have any of these changes. Or, the cause of a symptom may be a different medical condition that is not cancer.

  • Difficulty and pain with swallowing, particularly when eating meat, bread, or raw vegetables. As the tumor grows, it can block the pathway to the stomach. Even liquid may be painful to swallow.

  • Pressure or burning in the chest

  • Indigestion or heartburn

  • Vomiting

  • Frequent choking on food

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Coughing or hoarseness

  • Pain behind the breastbone or in the throat

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk with your health care team. Your doctor will ask how long and how often you’ve been experiencing the symptom(s), in addition to other questions. This is to help figure out the cause of the problem, called a diagnosis. If cancer is diagnosed, relieving symptoms remains an important part of cancer care and treatment. This may be called palliative care or supportive care. Be sure to talk with your health care team about the symptoms you experience, including any new symptoms or a change in symptoms.

The next section in this guide is Diagnosis. It explains what tests may be needed to learn more about the cause of the symptoms. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.