Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal Cancer is More Common in Men That It Is in Women

Close-up of a woman with a sore throat
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Esophageal cancer is a disease in which a malignancy (cancer of the esophagus) forms in the tissues of the esophagus.

The symptoms below that may indicate esophageal cancer can also be symptoms of other disorders, such as GERD, Barrett's esophagus, and hiatal hernia, so a thorough examination is needed to make an accurate diagnosis.

Difficulty Swallowing or Feeling Like Food Is Stuck

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer.

If the esophagus narrows because of the cancer, it is more difficult for food to pass through the esophagus on its way to the stomach. This usually begins with larger pieces of food, but can then worsen to the point that even thin liquids won't go down easily.

Pain When Swallowing

Pain may occur when swallowing if the cancer is large enough to block the esophagus. The pain may be felt within a few moments after swallowing, when the food or liquids reach the tumor and can't pass. Pain may also occur if the cancer causes a lesion in the lining of the esophagus or if it invades surrounding tissues. The pain is often felt in the chest or in the back between the shoulder blades.

Excessive Saliva

To help pass food through the esophagus, the body makes more saliva. As it becomes more difficult to swallow, the body produces more saliva to compensate.


Heartburn often occurs. It's a burning sensation in the chest and throat.

Unexplained Weight Loss

Losing weight when not trying, and there is no other reason / cause for the weight loss.


The need to frequently clear your throat, and experiencing a hoarse voice that can't be explained by any other condition or illness.


This can either be food or blood. You may vomit blood that has seeped from the tumor into your esophagus or stomach.

Black, Tarry Stools

Bleeding from the esophagus can show up as black, tarry stools (melena) as stomach acid turns black.

How Common Is Esophageal Cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 15,690 people will die of esophageal cancer in 2016. Furthermore in 2016, an estimated 16,910 people will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Of note, esophageal cancer is 3 to 4 times more common in men than it is in women.

At one point in time, esophageal cancer was more common among African Americans than it was among whites. However in recent years, this disease has become equally prevalent among both African Americans and whites.

On a related note, white people usually are affected by esophageal cancer that is adenocarcinoma whereas African Americans are typically affected by squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma refer to different cellular or histologic types of cancer.

Overall, esophageal cancer makes up about 1 percent of cancers in the United States. However, esophageal cancer is far more frequent in certain countries and regions, such as China, Iran and southern Africa.

If you are experiencing any symptoms suggestive of esophageal cancer or other disease, you should inform and see a physician as soon as possible.


Lightdale, M.D., Charles J.. "Esophageal Cancer." Vol. 94, No. 1, 1999. The American Journal of Gastroenterology.

"What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Esophagus - Symptoms" National Cancer Institute.