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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. See “Treating cancer of the esophagus by stage” or “Recurrent cancer of the esophagus” to learn about common treatments. 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 “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.

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.

If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section to learn more.

Considering complementary and alternative methods

You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.

Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.

Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section to learn more.

Help getting through cancer treatment

Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.

The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer 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.


Last Medical Review: 03/20/2014
Last Revised: 02/04/2016