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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. This means that they are usually diagnosed when the cancer is more advanced. Common symptoms are listed below. These symptoms can also occur in 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, reflux
  • persistent nausea and/or vomiting with no apparent cause
  • abdominal (stomach) pain
  • sense of fullness, even after a small meal
  • swelling of the abdomen or feeling bloated
  • unexplained tiredness, which may be due to anaemia
  • vomit containing blood
  • black-coloured or bloody stools
  • difficulty swallowing
  • new or worsening heartburn or reflux
  • food or fluids “catching” in the throat or episodes of choking when swallowing
  • pain when swallowing
  • unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
  • development of discomfort in the upper abdomen, especially when eating
  • persistent unexplained tiredness
  • vomiting blood
  • black-coloured 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 stomach or oesophageal cancer is diagnosed, 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.

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; 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
radiation therapistplans and delivers radiation therapy
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; may be a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery
physiotherapisthelps with restoring movement and mobility, and preventing further injury
social worker, psychologistlink you to support services; help with emotional and practical issues associated with cancer and treatment
palliative care teamwork closely with the GP and cancer team to help control symptoms and maintain quality of life

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT.