Moving on after treatment
For some people with esophagus cancer, treatment can remove or destroy the cancer. Completing treatment can be both stressful and exciting. You may be relieved to finish treatment, but find it hard not to worry about cancer coming back. (When cancer comes back after treatment, it is called recurrence.) This is a very common concern in people who have had cancer.
It may take a while before your fears lessen. But it may help to know that many cancer survivors have learned to live with this uncertainty and are leading full lives. To learn more, see Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence.
For other people, the esophagus cancer might never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation, or other treatments to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer as an on-going disease can be difficult and very stressful. It has its own type of uncertainty. See When Cancer Doesn’t Go Away for more about this.
If you have finished treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It’s very important to keep all these follow-up visits. Your doctors will ask about symptoms, examine you, and may order blood tests, upper endoscopy, or imaging tests such as barium swallows or CT scans. These tests are described in “How is cancer of the esophagus found?” Follow-up is needed to check for cancer that has come back or spread, and to look for possible side effects of certain treatments. Use these visits to ask your health care team questions and discuss any concerns you might have.
Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks or months, but others can last for the rest of your life. It is very important to report any new symptoms to the doctor right away, especially if they include trouble swallowing or chest pain. Early treatment can relieve many symptoms and improve your quality of life.
If cancer does come back, treatment will depend on where it is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health. For more on dealing with a cancer recurrence, see When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.
Help for trouble swallowing, nutrition, and pain
Some treatments are aimed at helping to relieve the symptoms of esophagus cancer, rather than trying to cure the cancer. These are called palliative treatments. In some cases they are used along with other treatments that focus on curing the cancer, but palliative treatments are often used in people with advanced cancer to help improve their quality of life.
Cancer of the esophagus often causes trouble swallowing, which can lead to weight loss and weakness due to poor nutrition. Your doctor and others can work with you to help you eat well and maintain your weight. For more information and nutrition tips for during and after cancer treatment, see Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families.
There are many ways to control pain caused by cancer of the esophagus. If you have pain, tell your cancer care team right away, so they can make sure you get good relief. For more information, see Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain.
For more on some of the treatments that can be used to help relieve symptoms like pain or trouble swallowing, see “Other treatments for cancer of the esophagus.”
Seeing a new doctor
At some point after your cancer is found and treated, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know about your cancer. It’s important that you be able to give your new doctor the exact details of your diagnosis and treatment. Gathering these details during and soon after treatment may be easier than trying to get them at some point in the future. Make sure you have this information handy and always keep copies for yourself:
- A copy of your pathology report(s) from any biopsies or surgeries
- Copies of imaging tests (CT or MRI scans, etc.), which can often be stored digitally (on a DVD, etc.)
- If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report
- If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor wrote when you were sent home
- If you had radiation treatment, a summary of the type and dose of radiation and when and where it was given
- If you had chemotherapy or targeted therapy, a list of your drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
- The names and contact information of the doctors who treated your cancer
Last Medical Review: 05/21/2014
Last Revised: 02/04/2016