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Esophageal Cancer Treatment


Updated July 13, 2010

Individuals with esophageal cancer have various treatment options available to them. Some of the treatments are the standard, currently used treatment options. There may also be clinical trials available for the testing of new treatments. A clinical trial is one of the final stages of a long and careful research process. For cancer, studies are done with cancer patients to find out whether promising approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment are safe and effective. When a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than a standard treatment, the new treatment may be used as a standard treatment.

Choosing the most appropriate cancer treatment is a decision that ideally involves the patient, family, and health care team.

Standard Treatments for Esophageal Cancer

Surgery is the most common treatment for cancer of the esophagus. There are several types of of surgery that is performed, and which type a patient receives depends on where the cancer is located. Your and your doctor will decide which type of surgery is best for you.

Usually the part of the esophagus that contains the cancer will be removed in an operation called an esophagectomy. The doctor will either connect the remaining healthy part of the esophagus to the stomach or use a small piece of intestines to connect the stomach to the esophagus. If the stomach also needs to be removed, the esophagus will be connected to the small intestive.

Lymph nodes near the esophagus may also be removed and viewed under a microscope to see if they contain cancer.

  • Radiation therapy
    Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapy:
  • External radiation therapy
    This type of radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. This therapy may be performed either in a hospital or in a clinic. The treatment is usually done for 5 days a week for several weeks.
  • Internal radiation therapy (Brachytherapy)
    This type of radiation therapy places a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters, and is placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Chemotherapy
    Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). When chemotherapy is placed directly into the spinal column, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas (regional chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • What stage is my cancer?
  • What are my treatment options?
  • Will I need more than one type of treatment?
  • Will I need to be admitted to the hospital?
  • How can I prepare for this treatment?
  • What are the risks and side effects of this treatment?
  • How much will this treatment cost?
  • Is there a clinical trial that would be appropriate for me?
  • Can you recommend other doctors who can give me a second opinion on treatment options?
  • How often should I have checkups?


Lightdale, M.D., Charles J.. "Esophageal Cancer." Vol. 94, No. 1, 1999. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. http://www.acg.gi.org/physicians/guidelines/EsophagealCancer.pdf

"What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Esophagus - Treatment" National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/esophagus/page4

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