How is cancer of the esophagus treated?
After the cancer is found and staged, your doctor will talk to you about your treatment options. There is a lot for you to think about when choosing the best way to treat or manage your cancer. You will want to weigh the pros and cons of each treatment option.
The main options for treating cancer of the esophagus include:
Other treatments may also be used for early cancers and pre-cancers of the esophagus. Some of these can also be used to help relieve symptoms such as pain and blockage.
Depending on the stage of the cancer and your general health, different treatments might be used alone or combined. Based on your treatment options, you might have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors might include:
- A thoracic surgeon: a doctor who treats diseases of the chest with surgery
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation
- 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 involved in your care as well. See Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care for more on this.
Be sure to discuss the pros and cons of your treatment options, including 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 give yourself time to absorb what you have learned. Ask your cancer care team questions, such as those in “Questions to ask your doctor about cancer of the esophagus.”
If time allows, it’s often a good idea to get a second opinion. This 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.
Last Medical Review: 05/21/2014
Last Revised: 02/04/2016