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List of Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

written by: Katherine Williams • edited by: Emma Lloyd • updated: 6/22/2010

Individuals who use tobacco products, or consume large amounts of alcohol are at great risk of developing esophageal cancer. In addition, continually eating unhealthy, fatty diets induces the frequency of acid reflux, and contributes to the growth of esophageal cancer.

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    Types of Esophageal Cancer

    The two most common types of esophageal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma (cells in the upper part of the esophagus) that mostly affects African-Americans, and adenocarcinoma (cells where the esophagus and stomach meet) that affects mostly the Caucasian population.

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    Symptoms to Watch For

    In the early stages of esophageal cancer, many people experience little to no symptoms at all. Some are not aware that a common ailment such as acid reflux is also a symptom of esophageal cancer, therefore an over the counter antacid may be the remedy in most minds. Only when symptoms become too bothersome to bear do most make an appointment with their physicians. Receiving a diagnosis of esophageal cancer is scary; however, if caught early enough, you can survive. If you experience any of the following symptoms, please see your doctor.

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    Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)

    Patients experience difficulty with the passage of food from mouth to stomach, it is especially difficult with solid foods. In addition, it is often painful as foods tend to get stuck in the passageway of the esophagus.

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    Chronic cough

    Chronic coughing is initiated by an inflamed esophagus; due to tumors that are either embedded into the walls of the esophagus or located on the outer surface of the esophagus.

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    Acid reflux (heartburn)

    A persistent onset of gastroesophageal reflux disease (gerd) is due to a change in the passageway between the esophagus and stomach. This is from swelling and pressure in and around the areas where tumors are present. If tumors are large enough to trap foods causing the stomach acids to push foods back up to the mouth or regurgitate.

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    Weight loss

    Patients typically lose weight due to lack of appetite or swallowing difficulties. When it gets too hard to swallow solid foods, patients tend to switch to softer foods or liquids. Many will stop eating high-nutrition and high-calorie solid foods such as meat and grains altogether. They then start to lose weight, without trying.

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    Black stool

    In very advanced stages of esophageal cancer, there may be some moderate bleeding from tumors. This bleeding can often turn stool a tar black color.

    Iron supplements, and other foods like licorice, blueberries or other foods with a black or dark hue can also cause black stool. Please visit with your doctor to rule out cancer if you are not ingesting any foods or meds that would cause black stools.

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    Other symptoms

    Other signs of advanced esophageal cancer are persistent hiccups, hoarseness or a change in voice tone. This is due to the tumor pressing on the vocal cords. In addition, esophageal cancer can spread to the lungs, which causes shortness of breath and a risk of pneumonia. The liver, brain, kidneys and other organs can be affected when cancer cells metastasize. Jaundice, a yellowing of the skin occurs once the cancer spreads to the liver; a build up of peritoneal fluid is also possible. Furthermore, individuals with a history of brain cancer are at a greater risk of developing esophageal cancer.

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