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Fitness & Health

27th Apr 2021

5 easy-to-miss signs that could be symptoms of something more serious

Ann Cronin

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Knowing these symptoms could save your life.

Heartburn, hiccups and hoarseness are seemingly innocent problems, but did you know they can be early signs of a more serious health issue?

These everyday issues can be easily-missed symptoms of oesophageal cancer – a disease which, if not caught early, can be extremely difficult to treat.

The Oesophageal Cancer Fund (OCF) say early detection is absolutely vital when it comes to effectively treating the disease, so it’s not very good news that over 70% of people wait over three months before contacting their GP about these symptoms.

The good news, however, is there’s been a 50% improvement in survival rates for oesophageal cancer in Ireland over the last two decades, positioning us fourth internationally in terms of survivorship. This positive news is down to early detection and diagnosis, and ground-breaking research from organisations such as the OCF.

While these symptoms may seem like small complaints to have, considering Ireland has some of the highest rates of oesophageal cancer in Europe, they’re well worth looking out for…

1. You’re having difficulty swallowing

Difficulty swallowing, or feeling like food is getting stuck or caught in your food pipe has in many cases been the symptom that steers people towards further investigations. Often, this will turn out to be nothing serious but it should definitely be checked out nonetheless.

2. Persistent burping, belching or hiccups

Not the most glamorous conversation topic, but all of these common reflux issues have been noted as symptoms of oesophageal cancer. If you’re having these digestive issues and they don’t subside, you should be speaking to your GP about it.

3. You’re suffering from frequent heartburn

A lot of us will experience heartburn or acid indigestion at some point in our lives, and it’s usually a temporary problem that goes away in time. But persistent heartburn that doesn’t subside can be a symptom of oesophageal cancer or a pre-cancerous condition called Barrett’s Oesophagus. For more information on Barrett’s Oesophagus, click here.

4. You’re not able to keep food down

Vomiting or regurgitation (food coming back up before it has reached the stomach) is usually a temporary problem, but it can also be a sign of something more worrisome and should be brought to your GP’s attention.

5. A persistent cough or hoarseness that isn’t caused by a cold

Coughs and a croaky voice are common complaints, and aren’t usually something we take too seriously. But if these symptoms are hanging around longer than a cold usually would, or they’re accompanied by any of the other symptoms listed above, you should have a chat with your doctor about it.

The Oesophageal Cancer Fund (OCF) is asking the public to ‘Shake your Lolly’ for Lollipop Month this April to raise a vital €400,000 for cancer research and spread awareness of the early symptoms of this difficult cancer.

To learn more about oesophageal cancer and to donate to the OCF, visit

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