The only way to find out if you have esophageal cancer with certainty is to visit a physician who can perform the diagnostic tests necessary to confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis. If your physician believes cancer may be present, he or she will likely order a series of tests. Often, these tests begin with a chest X-ray with an esophagram (barium swallow), which coats the esophagus to make lesions appear more clearly on the images. Other tests, such as an endoscopy, may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.
When should you see a physician for esophageal cancer?
As esophageal cancer progresses, it can cause a number of symptoms, and these symptoms are typically what prompts a person to visit their physician. The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is dysphagia, or trouble swallowing. This can make you to feel as if you have something stuck in your throat or chest and can lead to coughing fits or choking when you try to swallow. If the dysphagia is severe, you may have difficulty swallowing liquids.
Additional signs of esophageal cancer that should prompt you to see a physician include:
- Persistent heartburn
- Persistent indigestion
- Pain or a burning sensation behind the breastbone in the middle of the chest
- Decreased appetite
- Unintentional weight loss
- Dark-colored or bloody stools
If you are showing one or more of these symptoms, it is important to remember that you do not necessarily have esophageal cancer. All of the symptoms listed above can be caused by other, less serious conditions as well. Likewise, it is also possible to have esophageal cancer and not show any symptoms at all. If you are concerned that you may have esophageal cancer, schedule an appointment with a physician who can confirm or rule out a cancer diagnosis.
Moffitt Cancer Center offers a number of diagnostic tests for individuals who are showing signs of esophageal cancer. To request an initial consultation at our cancer center, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. We welcome patients with or without referrals.