What is esophageal cancer?
Your esophagus is the muscular tube connecting your throat to your stomach, and it allows the food and drink you eat to make its way down through your digestive tract. So it makes sense that many of the symptoms and signs of esophageal cancer have to do with pain related to eating and drinking, among others. Esophageal cancer is relatively rare (compared to other types of cancer), but it’s important to know the symptoms. According to the American Cancer Society, around 17,000 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer this year, and 15,690 will die from it. Here’s what you need to know.
Esophageal cancer symptom: You have pain or difficulty swallowing
Pain or difficulties with swallowing are the main signs of a tumor in the esophagus, that muscular tube that connects the mouth and stomach, according to Avni Desai, MD, a medical oncologist at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center outpatient facility in Commack, New York. Desai says people begin to notice pain when swallowing solid foods and eventually feel pain when swallowing liquids. The first hint of dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, typically happens when people can’t swallow a piece of meat or bread. “That’s a result of the tumor growing,” says Ronan Kelly, MD, director of the Gastroesophageal Cancer Therapeutics Program at John Hopkins. “If the tumor gets to a certain size it can narrow the opening to the esophageal tube, and can cause that sensation of blockage.” If difficulty swallowing persists or gets worse, see a gastroenterologist, who may perform an endoscopy. An endoscopy is an exam in which a thin, flexible, lighted scope is used to examine the esophagus. (Do you know all of these surprising causes of cancer?)