GI Cancer - Oesophageal Cancer

Oesophageal cancer: symptoms and risk factors

Oesophageal cancer is not as well known as some other forms of cancer, but over 1,400 Australians lose their lives to it each year. Only 22% of people diagnosed with oesophageal cancer live longer than five years.

This cancer occurs when malignant cancer cells have formed in the tissue of the oesophagus, the tube that transports food from your mouth to your stomach. It can occur in any part of the oesophagus and within different cells.

Oesophageal cancer symptoms

Early stages of oesophageal cancer often do not cause any symptoms or only show in the form of non-specific symptoms that can also be commonly found in other illnesses. Most oesophageal cancer diagnoses occur during more advanced stages of the disease.

Oesophageal cancer symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty or pain while swallowing
  • Episodes of choking on food or fluids coming back up after “catching” in the throat.
  • Unexplainable weight loss
  • Unexplainable fatigue
  • Development of upper abdominal discomfort especially while eating.
  • Vomiting up blood
  • New or worsening heartburn or acid reflux
  • Bloody or black-coloured stools
  • Hoarseness or a chronic cough

If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns, please contact your general practitioner (GP).

Oesophageal cancer risk factors

The following factors may increase the risk of developing oesophageal cancer.

Risk factors include:

  • Personal or family history of gastro-oesophageal illnesses, including hiatus hernias, polyps, ulcers or oesophagitis.
  • Pre-existing medical conditions, such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), and Barrett’s oesophagus.
  • Frequent drinking of very hot liquids
  • Older age
  • Smoking tobacco
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Obesity
  • Diet high in salt and low in fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Frequent consumption of smoked, salted or pickled food.

This form of cancer is difficult to screen for or diagnose at an early stage, because the symptoms can be subtle or there can be none at all. Oesophageal cancer survivor Geoff Parnell says that being aware of the symptoms and taking care of your health are key to addressing this disease in the community.

Read Geoff’s story here

Our research

The GI Cancer Institute is currently conducting four clinical trials offering new treatments to people with oesophageal cancer:


The purpose of the PALEO study is to investigate the effects of the addition of stereotactic body radiotherapy to treatment with nivolumab in people with oesophageal cancer that has spread to another area of the body (metastasised).


The purpose of NEO-CREATE is to assess the safety of adding the drug avelumab to chemo-radiation before surgery for people with oesophageal or gastro-oesophageal cancer.


INTEGRATE II will determine whether Regorafenib is effective in prolonging survival in patients with Advanced Gastro-Oesophageal Carcinoma (AGOC).

You can change the odds

Any donation, no matter what size, will help us to conduct clinical trials that lead to better health outcomes for people diagnosed with gastro-intestinal cancer. 100% of your donation will go towards research, and you can select the cancer type your gift will go towards.

Make a Donation