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  • Esophageal Cancer Symptoms


    In the early stages of esophageal cancer, there are generally no symptoms. The cancer may initially affect a few cells, allowing the lumen of the esophagus to remain patent (naturally open and unblocked). As the cancer grows, however, it will definitely obstruct the lumen and symptoms will appear.


    Common Signs & Symptoms


    Difficulty swallowing is a universal complaint during the later stages of esophageal cancer. When the cancer grows large and becomes bulky, it almost always obstructs the lumen, making it impossible to swallow food. When obstruction in the esophagus is moderate, most people will only be able to drink liquids, but will not be able to eat any solid foods. As the cancer progresses, one may not be able to eat solids or even swallow saliva.

    As the cancer gets bigger and obstructs the lumen of the esophagus, one is unable to eat. Gradual weight loss is the primary aftereffect of this inability. The cancer also decreases the appetite, but it is the physical inability to eat that results in significant weight loss. The weight loss is quite obvious.

    Discomfort in the throat area or pain in front of the chest also occurs in most individuals during the latter stages of esophageal cancer. Some individuals may feel a lump near the left side of the neck and others may feel a sharp pain just beneath the mid chest bone. The pain is not excruciating nor is it continuous. In almost all cases, the pain does worsen during eating or swallowing.

    Other Signs & Symptoms

    When the cancer is located in the upper esophagus, it can affect the vocal cords. This is usually seen in the later stages of the cancer. The tumor grows large and either pushes on the vocal cords or penetrates into the trachea. Hoarseness is a common feature when the vocal cords are affected. Unfortunately this is a terminal phase and not much can be done at this stage.

    Hiccups are also quite common in some individuals during the later stages of cancer. The hiccups may start off during the day and persist throughout the night. The cause of hiccups is not known but is more common when the tumor infiltrates the trachea. Most people require some type of medications to relieve the hiccups.

    In a few individuals, vomiting of blood is also common during the later stages of esophageal cancer. The vomited blood is usually bright red in color but never more than a couple of spoonfuls. The vomited blood may appear alarming but is not life threatening.

    Associated Disorders

    Cancer of the esophagus is quite common in some parts of the world. No one understands why this cancer occurs, but there are some risk factors that can increase the chances of developing this malignancy:

    • Achalasia is a very rare disorder where the lower esophagus does not relax normally. This condition has been associated with development of esophageal cancer.
    • There are some individuals who develop a narrowing of the esophagus (web), anemia, and abnormal finger nails. These individuals are generally without symptoms but are known to develop cancer of the esophagus (Patterson Kelly Syndrome).