Esophagus Cancer Overview

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Treating Esophagus Cancer TOPICS

Radiation treatment for cancer of the esophagus

Radiation treatment uses high energy rays (such as x-rays) to kill cancer cells or shrink tumors. External radiation uses a beam from outside the body. This is the kind most often used for cancer of the esophagus. It is often combined with other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy (chemo) and/or surgery.

For internal or implant radiation (also called brachytherapy), the doctor places radioactive material very close to the cancer through an endoscope. This is most often used with more advanced esophageal cancers to shrink tumors so a patient can swallow more easily. This method cannot be used to treat a very large area, so it is better used as a way to relieve symptoms (and not to try to cure the cancer).

Side effects of radiation treatment may include:

  • Skin changes – ranging from something like a sunburn to blistering and open sores
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Painful sores in the mouth and throat
  • Dry mouth or thick saliva
  • Low blood counts

These side effects may be worse if chemo and radiation are given at the same time. Often these side effects go away when treatment ends, but some may last longer. Radiation to the chest may cause lung damage and lead to trouble breathing and shortness of breath.

Talk with your doctor before and during treatment about what side effects you can expect and any ways that they could be reduced.

Last Medical Review: 12/26/2012
Last Revised: 12/26/2012