What Happens After Treatment for Cancer of the Esophagus?

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 living full lives. See Living With Uncertainty: The Fear of Cancer Recurrence for more detailed information on this.

For other people, the esophagus cancer might never go away completely. These people may get regular treatments with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or other therapies to help keep the cancer in check. Learning to live with cancer as more of a chronic 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.

Follow-up care

If you have completed treatment, your doctors will still want to watch you closely. It’s very important to go to all of your follow-up appointments. During these visits, your doctors will ask about symptoms, examine you, and may order blood tests, upper endoscopy, or imaging tests such as upper gastrointestinal (GI) x-rays, barium swallows, or CT scans. These tests are described in “ How is cancer of the esophagus diagnosed?

Follow-up is needed to check for cancer recurrence or spread, as well as for possible side effects of certain treatments. This is the time for you to ask your health care team any questions you need answered and to discuss any concerns you might have.

Almost any cancer treatment can have side effects. Some may last for a few weeks to several months, but others can last the rest of your life. Don’t hesitate to tell your cancer care team about any symptoms or side effects that bother you so they can help you manage them.

It’s 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.

It’s also very important to keep health insurance. Tests and doctor visits cost a lot, and even though no one wants to think of their cancer coming back, this could happen.

If cancer does recur, treatment will depend on where the cancer is, what treatments you’ve had before, and your overall health. For more information on how recurrent cancer is treated, see “ Recurrent cancer of the esophagus.” For more general information on dealing with a recurrence, you may also want to see When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.

Help for trouble swallowing, nutrition, and pain

Palliative treatments are aimed at helping to relieve the symptoms of esophagus cancer, rather than trying to cure the cancer. 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. A team of doctors and nutritionists can work with you to provide nutritional supplements and information about your individual nutritional needs. This can help you maintain your weight and nutritional intake. 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 give you prompt and effective pain management. For more information, see Guide to Controlling Cancer Pain.

For more information on palliative treatments, see “ Palliative therapy for cancer of the esophagus.

Seeing a new doctor

At some point after your cancer diagnosis and treatment, you may find yourself seeing a new doctor who doesn’t know anything about your medical history. It’s important that you be able to give your new doctor the 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 usually be stored digitally (on a DVD, etc.)
  • If you had surgery, a copy of your operative report(s)
  • If you stayed in the hospital, a copy of the discharge summary that the doctor prepared when you were sent home
  • If you had radiation therapy, 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 the drugs, drug doses, and when you took them
  • The names and contact information of the doctors who treated your cancer

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master’s-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: March 20, 2014 Last Revised: February 4, 2016

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