Esophageal Cancer: Symptoms, Signs and Causes

In many cases, esophageal cancer does not show any symptoms in the early stages, and the symptoms that it does show are often ignored because they overlap with those of other less serious GI conditions.

For early detection of esophageal cancer, one needs to opt for regular health checkups, be mindful of different signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer, and see a doctor when persistent symptoms are experienced.

Who is at High Risk of Esophageal Cancer?

Anyone can get esophageal cancer. However, certain individuals have a higher risk of developing this cancer type, and such individuals are called “high-risk individuals.” Those who consume tobacco and alcohol, those who are obese, and those with conditions like Barrett’s esophagus and chronic acid reflux have a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer. Also, men have a higher chance of developing this condition than women.

Esophageal Cancer Symptoms and Signs

Esophageal cancer symptoms can vary from patient to patient. The following are the important symptoms of esophageal carcinoma:

Top 7 Causes of Esophageal Cancer

The exact cause of esophageal cancer is yet to be known. From studies carried out over the years, we have understood that certain DNA mutations can cause the cells in the esophagus to divide uncontrollably and form a tumor. That said, it has also been understood that certain factors can increase the risk of mutations that can lead to esophageal cancer, and these factors may be called risk factors or possible causes of esophageal cancer.


Patients with esophageal cancer may not experience any symptoms in the early stages. Also, most esophageal cancer symptoms overlap with the symptoms of other more common health conditions, and this may lead to a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Therefore, it is imperative to not ignore any signs and symptoms that are associated with esophageal cancer and to promptly see a doctor when something is abnormal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Esophageal cancer is one of the top ten cancers in India. It is one of the most common cancers among Indian men due to a higher consumption of tobacco and alcohol. Abdominal obesity, which is seen in men, also contributes to the increased risk of esophageal cancer.

Esophageal cancer is a slow-growing cancer, and patients may not know about it for many months or even years.

In most cases, the diagnosis happens only when esophageal cancer symptoms become apparent. Life expectancy after the treatment depends on the stage at which the disease was diagnosed. The survival rates and the disease prognosis are better if the diagnosis is made in the early stages.

The duration for esophageal tumor symptoms to become apparent may vary from patient to patient. It depends on various factors like the type of esophageal cancer, the patient’s age, and the patient’s overall health condition.

In some cases, it may take a few months for the symptoms to appear, while in others, it may take years.

In esophageal cancer patients, the lymph nodes begin to swell when the disease spreads to them. Primarily, the disease spreads to the 1-2 lymph nodes that are close to the tumor. At this stage, if it is not diagnosed and treated appropriately, it may spread to the lymph nodes near the throat and collarbone and gradually to the distant ones.

Follow-up care is an important aspect of esophageal cancer management. Just like for any other cancer, the management of esophageal cancer does not end with its treatment.

Once the treatment is completed, the patient will be put on follow-up care, where regular medical checkups are scheduled to check if the patient is managing the treatment-related side effects well, evaluate general health, and look for early signs of recurrence.

Coughing is one of the esophageal tumor symptoms. The mucus released by the tumor may lead to coughing. More saliva is produced by the body to prevent the food from lodging in the food pipe, which may also lead to coughing. Lastly, patients may also experience coughing when a tracheoesophageal fistula, which is an abnormal connection between the food pipe and windpipe, is formed because of the tumor.

You cannot prevent esophageal cancer, as we do not know its exact cause. However, it is possible to reduce its risk by following certain preventive measures. The following measures can help in reducing the risk of esophageal cancer:

  • Maintaining healthy weight
  • Refraining from tobacco and alcohol consumption
  • Having healthy food habits
  • Receiving appropriate treatment for chronic acid reflux
  • Undergoing regular health checkups

The esophageal tumor symptoms may vary from one patient to another, and they may vary according to the stage of the disease. In the early stages, the patient may not experience any symptoms. As the disease progresses, patients start experiencing various symptoms.

Some of the unusual symptoms of esophageal cancer include a persistent cough, hoarse voice, radiating pain in the back, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and tiredness.

The esophageal cancer symptoms seen in females and males are almost similar. Some of the commonly seen symptoms of esophageal carcinoma in men and women include swallowing difficulties, heartburn, vomiting and coughing up blood, pain in the chest and throat, hoarse voice, and unintended weight loss.

The presence of a lump in the esophagus could be a sign of esophageal cancer; however, this is not always the case. A lot of other less serious conditions related to the esophagus can also cause a lump. Therefore, it is important to consult a doctor for a proper evaluation.