Esophageal Cancer (cont.)

Symptoms

Early esophageal cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:

  • Food gets stuck in the esophagus, and food may come back up
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Pain in the chest or back
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • A hoarse voice or cough that doesn't go away within 2 weeks

These symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or other health problems. If you have any of these symptoms, you should tell your doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Diagnosis

If you have a symptom that suggests esophageal cancer, your doctor must find out whether it's really due to cancer or to some other cause. The doctor gives you a physical exam and asks about your personal and family health history. You may have blood tests. You also may have:

  • Barium swallow: After you drink a barium solution, you have x-rays taken of your esophagus and stomach. The barium solution makes your esophagus show up more clearly on the x-rays. This test is also called an upper GI series.
  • Endoscopy: The doctor uses a thin, lighted, flexible tube (endoscope) to look down your esophagus. The doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray, and you may also receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth or nose to the esophagus. The doctor may also call this procedure upper endoscopy, EGD, or esophagoscopy.
  • Biopsy: Usually, cancer begins in the inner layer of the esophagus. The doctor uses an endoscope to remove tissue from the esophagus. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

  • Where will the procedure take place? Will I have to go to the hospital?
  • How long will it take? Will I be awake?
  • Will it hurt? Will I get an anesthetic?
  • What are the risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding afterward?
  • How do I prepare for the procedure?
  • How long will it take me to recover?
  • How soon will I know the results? Will I get a copy of the pathology report?
  • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about the next steps? When?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

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Esophageal Cancer - Symptoms and Signs Question: What were the symptoms and signs you experienced with esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Prognosis Question: What is your esophageal cancer prognosis?
Esophageal Cancer - Types Question: Do you or someone you know have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus? Please share your story.
Esophageal Cancer - Risk Factors Question: Do you have any of the risk factors for esophageal cancer? What are they, and what are your concerns?
Esophageal Cancer - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams led to a diagnosis of esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, including radiation or chemotherapy, did you receive for esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Surgery Question: Please describe the surgical experience you or someone you know had for esophageal cancer.
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Esophageal Cancer - Follow-Up Care Question: What type of follow-up care did you receive for your esophageal cancer?