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What are the symptoms of stomach and oesophageal cancers?

Stomach and oesophageal cancers may not cause symptoms in their early stages. Common symptoms are listed below. These symptoms can also be caused by many other conditions and do not necessarily mean that you have cancer. Speak with your general practitioner (GP) if you are concerned.

  • unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • difficulty swallowing
  • indigestion – e.g. pain or burning sensation in the abdomen (heartburn), frequent burping, or stomach acid coming back up into the oesophagus (reflux)
  • persistent nausea and/or vomiting with no apparent cause
  • abdominal (stomach) pain
  • feeling full after eating even a small amount
  • swelling of the abdomen or feeling bloated
  • unexplained tiredness, which may be due to low red blood cells (anaemia)
  • vomit that has blood in it
  • black or bloody stools
  • difficulty swallowing
  • new heartburn or reflux
  • reflux that doesn’t go away
  • food or fluids “catching” in the throat or episodes of choking when swallowing
  • pain when swallowing
  • unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • feeling uncomfortable in the upper abdomen, especially when eating
  • unexplained tiredness that won’t go away
  • vomit that has blood in it
  • black or bloody stools

Which health professionals will I see?

Your GP will assess your symptoms and arrange the first tests to check your general health. You will usually be referred to a specialist such as a gastroenterologist or an upper gastrointestinal surgeon for an endoscopy and further tests.

If you are diagnosed with stomach or oesophageal cancer, the specialist will consider treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting.

During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care. The most common health professionals are listed below. You won’t necessarily see all these people.

gastroenterologistdiagnoses and treats some disorders of the digestive system; may perform endoscopies and insert feeding tubes
upper gastrointestinal surgeondiagnoses, treats and performs surgery for diseases of the upper digestive system (such as cancer); performs endoscopies and inserts feeding tubes
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy (systemic treatment)
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with MDT members and supports you and your family throughout treatment; may be a clinical nurse consultant (CNC), nurse consultant (NC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
dietitianhelps with nutrition concerns and recommends changes to diet during treatment and recovery
physiotherapisthelps with restoring movement and mobility, and preventing further injury
speech pathologist evaluates and treats communication, voice and swallowing difficulties during and after treatment
social worker, psychologistlink you to support services and help with emotional and practical issues associated with cancer and treatment
palliative care teamwork closely with the GP and cancer specialists to help control symptoms and maintain quality of life

Featured resources

Oesophagogastric cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancers

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.