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Symptoms and Signs of Esophageal Cancer

Doctor's Notes on Esophageal Cancer (Cancer of the Esophagus)

Esophageal cancer is a disease where the tissues of the esophagus (the tube-like structure that connects the throat to the stomach) start to grow abnormally and become malignant. There are two major types of esophageal cancers: squamous cell carcinoma, which arises from the surface (epithelial) cells that line the esophagus, and adenocarcinoma arises from the esophageal glands or within a segment of Barrett's esophagus. Although tumors can develop anywhere in the esophagus, adenocarcinomas appears more frequently in the lower portion while squamous cell carcinoma develops more frequently in the upper portion of the esophagus.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer may not occur until the disease is at an advanced stage and may include difficulty swallowing, weight loss, central chest pain and/or pain behind the breastbone, pain upon swallowing, vomiting, chronic cough, hoarseness, and symptoms of gastrointestinal bleeding such as black stools or vomiting blood or material that looks like coffee grounds.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

Esophageal Cancer (Cancer of the Esophagus) Symptoms

  • Symptoms of esophageal cancer usually do not show up until the disease has reached an advanced stage.
  • The most common symptom is difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
    • Initially, swallowing solids is difficult.
    • Over time, even swallowing liquids becomes difficult.
  • The following symptoms may accompany cancer of the esophagus. Any of these symptoms are indications of advanced disease and should be considered as a sign to get medical attention.

Esophageal Cancer (Cancer of the Esophagus) Causes

According to the American Cancer Society and others who treat esophageal cancers, the exact cause or causes of this disease are not known. However, researchers suspect that certain risk factors (see below) may cause DNA damage in cells that may result in the disease.

Gastric (Stomach) Cancer Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment Slideshow

Gastric (Stomach) Cancer Types, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment Slideshow

A Malignancy of the Stomach

Gastric cancer, or stomach cancer, is a malignancy (unrestrained growth of abnormal tissue) of the lining of the stomach. Infection with the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), is a common cause of this type of malignancy. Tumors called adenocarcinomas are the most common type of stomach cancers. A carcinoma is a cancer that arises from tissue that lines the internal organs or the epithelial layer of the skin. Other forms include lymphomas, carcinoid tumors, and gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Unfortunately, gastric cancer often does not have early symptoms and signs so it is often diagnosed late in the course of the disease.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.