Esophagus Cancer

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Treating Esophagus Cancer TOPICS

How is cancer of the esophagus treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

After the cancer is found and staged, your cancer care team will discuss treatment options with you. It is important that you take time to think about your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects. In choosing a treatment plan, 2 of the main factors to consider are your overall health and the stage (extent) of the cancer.

The main options for treatment of cancer of the esophagus include:

Some of these treatments can also be used as palliative treatment when all the cancer cannot be removed. Palliative treatment is meant to relieve symptoms, such as pain and trouble swallowing, but it is not expected to cure the cancer.

Depending on the stage of the cancer and your general health, different treatment options may be used alone or in combination. Based on these options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors could include:

  • A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases of the chest with surgery
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
  • A gastroenterologist: a doctor who specializes in treatment of diseases of the digestive system

Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.

It is important to discuss all treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. You may feel that you need to make a decision quickly, but it’s important to give yourself time to absorb the information you have learned. Ask your cancer care team questions. You can find some good questions to ask in the section, “What should you ask your doctor about cancer of the esophagus?”

If time permits, it’s often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel confident about the treatment plan you choose.

The next few sections describe the different types of treatment for esophagus cancer. This is followed by a discussion of the most common treatment options based on the stage of the cancer, as well as information about recurrent esophagus cancer and palliative treatment options.

Last Medical Review: 03/20/2014
Last Revised: 03/02/2015