Oesophageal cancer affects the oesophagus (gullet) - the long tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. See your GP if you have the symptoms below. They can be caused by other conditions, but it's a good idea to get them checked out.
Symptoms of oesophageal cancer
Oesophageal cancer rates increase as you grow older.
In Northern Ireland, over 80 per cent of patients diagnosed were over the age of 60. Incidence rates are highest among men and women aged 85 and over. It is more common in men than women.
Oesophageal cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms in the early stages when the tumour is small. It's only when it gets bigger that symptoms tend to develop.
Symptoms of oesophageal cancer can include:
- difficulty swallowing
- persistent indigestion or heartburn
- bringing up food soon after eating
- loss of appetite and weight loss
- pain or discomfort in your upper tummy, chest or back
When to get medical advice
See your GP if you experience:
- difficulty swallowing
- heartburn on most days for three weeks or more
- any other unusual or persistent symptoms
The symptoms can be caused by several conditions and in many cases won't be caused by cancer – but it's a good idea to get them checked out.
If your GP thinks you need to have some tests, they can refer you to a hospital specialist.
Causes of oesophageal cancer
The exact cause of oesophageal cancer is unknown, but the following things can increase your risk:
- persistent gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
- drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time
- being overweight or obese
- having an unhealthy diet that's low in fruit and vegetables
Stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, losing weight and having a healthy diet may help reduce your risk of developing oesophageal cancer.
Treatment for oesophageal cancer
If oesophageal cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it may be possible to cure it with:
- surgery to remove the affected section of oesophagus
- chemotherapy, with or without radiotherapy , to kill the cancerous cells and shrink the tumour
If oesophageal cancer is diagnosed at a later stage, a cure may not be achievable.
But in these cases, surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be used to help keep the cancer under control and relieve any symptoms you have.
Your hospital consultant will discuss treatment options with you.
Outlook for oesophageal cancer
The outlook for oesophageal cancer varies depending on things such as how far it has spread, your age and your general health.
If it's detected while it's still quite small, it may be possible to get rid of it completely.
But as oesophageal cancer doesn't usually cause any symptoms until a late stage, it has often spread quite far by the time it's diagnosed.
In Northern Ireland, only about 1 in every 10 cases are diagnosed at the earliest stage. Overall, about 17 in every 100 patients diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in Northern Ireland will be alive five years or more after diagnosis and treatment.
Living with of oesophageal cancer
Coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be very difficult. You may find it helpful to:
- talk to your friends and family – be open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put you and them at ease
- communicate with others in the same situation – you may want to contact a local support group, see more useful links
- find out more about your condition – see websites below or speak to your care team or GP if you have any questions about your condition
- take time out for yourself – don't feel shy about telling friends and family if you want some time to yourself
More useful links
- How to use your health services
- Northern Ireland Cancer Network
- Action Cancer
- Marie Curie
- Cancer Focus Northern Ireland
- Macmillan Cancer Support
- Cancer Research UK
The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.
For further information see terms and conditions.