What are the early warning signs of esophageal cancer?

What are the early warning signs of esophageal cancer?

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP

Esophageal cancer is a type of cancer that grows in the esophagus, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. Factors that can make someone at higher risk of developing esophageal cancer include:

  • Increasing age
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • History of Barrett esophagus
  • Tobacco use


Symptoms of esophageal cancer can vary for each person, but some common symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Pain with swallowing
  • Chest pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Hoarse voice
  • Indigestion


The ultimate diagnosis of esophageal cancer will be made once a biopsy is obtained. Imaging tests will likely be ordered when someone is suspected of having esophageal cancer. Standard imaging tests can include X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, and PET scans.

Another imaging test that will likely be needed is an upper endoscopy. During this exam, a gastroenterologist inserts an extended, flexible scope with a camera into the mouth, esophagus, and stomach. This camera allows them to visualize any suspicious areas for cancer. During an endoscopy, a biopsy of a suspicious lesion can be taken to be tested for cancer cells.

A specialized ultrasound may also be done, which can help look at how large the cancerous lesion is and evaluate the lymph nodes around the esophagus to see if they look suspicious for cancer.

Once a diagnosis is made and imaging studies are done, the cancer is given a stage to describe how advanced the cancer is.


The exact treatment for esophageal cancer will be determined once the diagnosis is made and the cancer stage is known.

Surgery may be recommended for esophageal cancer. This surgery can include removing the part of the esophagus containing the tumor and pulling up the stomach to connect to the end of the esophagus. Surgery may also remove lymph nodes around the esophagus to check for the spread of cancer to those areas.

Radiation therapy is a treatment that may be used as well. During radiation, high-energy beams are directed at the cancer cells to kill them.

Chemotherapy is another treatment that may be recommended. Chemotherapy is a medication that is given to kill cancer cells. Sometimes chemotherapy is used before surgery to help shrink the tumor and allow the surgeon to perform less aggressive surgery.

Immunotherapy may be given for esophageal cancer that has spread into other areas of the body (metastasized). Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that helps the immune system see and attack cancer cells.

If you’ve been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, be sure to talk to your cancer team about the specifics of your cancer. They can help you understand your diagnosis and how best to treat it.

In conclusion, esophageal cancer is a serious disease that can be difficult to detect and treat. However, understanding the risk factors and symptoms can improve your chances of early detection and treatment. If you are concerned about your risk for esophageal cancer, talk to your doctor. And remember, the best way to prevent any cancer is to live a healthy lifestyle.


Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Julie is an oncology certified Oncology Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of medical oncology experience. In addition to her clinical work, she is an accomplished healthcare writer providing oncology content for various publications. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member for a Master's nursing program and a chair for Doctoral nursing students.

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