Penny Brohn UK

Help change life with cancer. For good

Oesophageal Cancer Awareness

Oesophageal Cancer Awareness

In this article, we'll be taking a brief look at:

  • Symptoms to be aware of,
  • causes and risk factors,
  • getting diagnosed and treatment,
  • how we can help you live well and manage your symptoms and side effects.

What is Oesophageal Cancer?

This type of cancer can develop in different areas and stages of the oesophagus.

Your oesophagus, also known as the gullet or food pipe, links your mouth with your stomach.

Oesophageal Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of oesophageal cancer can vary depending on the stage of the cancer and where it is in the oesophagus. However, some of the most common symptoms include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), pain when swallowing (odynophagia), weight loss, chest pain, and a persistent cough.

If you experience any of these symptoms for over two weeks, see your doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential for improving survival rates for oesophageal cancer.

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling or being sick
  • Persistent heartburn or reflux
  • Indigestion

Causes of Oesophageal Cancer

There is no one definitive cause of oesophageal cancer. However, there are several recognised risk factors for the disease.

These include smoking, drinking alcohol, being overweight or obese, and eating a poor diet.

Smoking is the biggest risk factor for oesophageal cancer. Tobacco smoke contains over 70 carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) that can damage the cells in the oesophagus. This increases the risk of developing oesophageal cancer by up to 25 times.

Drinking alcohol is also a major risk factor for oesophageal cancer. Alcohol consumption increases the chance of developing the disease by 3-5 times.

Being overweight or obese is another common risk factor for oesophageal cancer.

You might be more likely to get it, but it doesn’t mean you will get it, if you:

  • Are over 75, it’s not very common in people under 45
  • Are a man
  • Have certain medical conditions, such as long-term, severe acid reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or a condition called Barrett's oesophagus.

Oesophageal Cancer can be linked to your lifestyle, so making a few healthy changes can lower your chances of getting it, such as:

  • Losing a bit of weight
  • Letting hot drinks cool down before drinking them (as very hot drinks can damage your oesophagus)
  • Cutting down on your alcohol intake – avoid drinking more than 14 units per week
  • Quitting smoking and/or chewing tobacco.

Oesophageal Cancer Diagnosis

It is a relatively rare cancer, accounting for just 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the UK, but it is one of the most deadly. In 2012, there were around 7,600 new cases of oesophageal cancer in the UK and around 4,700 people died from the disease.

There are several types of oesophageal cancer, but the most common is squamous cell carcinoma. This type develops in the cells that line the inside of the oesophagus.

If you are worried about any of the above symptoms. Get in touch with your GP, who will ask you further questions and may refer you for further tests. These tests will help determine if you have oesophagus cancer. Further tests will be performed to determine the stage and grade if cancer is detected.

Oesophageal Cancer Treatment

Your treatment depends on the stage (how big it is and if it has spread) and grade (what the cancer cells look like) of your cancer diagnosis. If you are diagnosed, you are matched with an oncology team who will decide the best treatment for you. It could involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy or a mixture of these three.

Research and clinical trials for innovative cancer treatments are running all the time. Speak to your oncology team if this is something you would consider taking part in as part of your treatment plan.

Alongside medical treatment for cancer, we provide support to help you live well with and beyond oesophageal cancer.

Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month

February is Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month. An ideal reminder to look into the symptoms of this cancer, and how we can help you manage your treatment.

Support with side affects and symptoms

Difficulty swallowing and fatigue are common symptom of oesophageal cancer, but are also side effects of treatment.

Our guide Eating Well When Eating Becomes Difficult is full of tips and guidance to help you prepare delicious and nutritious meals, bearing in mind the difficulties that arise from treatment.

Coping with cancer 

We can support you through your cancer experience.

If you're new to Penny Brohn UK, a great starting point is joining us for our Introduction to Penny Brohn UK session, held every two weeks. Meet our therapists and find out more about the support we provide and what you need to help you live well with cancer.

Useful resources and further support

Was this post helpful?

Subscribe to our mailing list

Receive a weekly update to your inbox on our services and fundraising events.