Recurrent Cancer of the Esophagus

When a cancer comes back after treatment, it is called recurrent or relapsed cancer. Cancer that comes back in or near where it started is called a local recurrence. If it comes back in distant organs or tissues (such as the liver), it is called a distant recurrence. Treatment of recurrent esophageal cancer depends on where it comes back, as well as how it was treated the first time.

If the cancer was initially treated endoscopically (such as with endoscopic mucosal resection or photodynamic therapy), it most often comes back in the esophagus. This type of recurrence is often treated with surgery to remove the esophagus. If the patient isn’t healthy enough for surgery, the cancer may be treated with chemotherapy, radiation, or both.

If cancer recurs locally (such as in nearby lymph nodes) after surgery to remove the esophagus, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be used. Radiation may not be an option if it was already given as part of the initial treatment. When chemotherapy was given before, it is usually still possible to give more chemotherapy. Sometimes the same drugs that were used before are given again, but often other drugs are used. Other treatment options for local recurrence after surgery might include more surgery or other treatments to help prevent or relieve symptoms.

If the cancer recurs locally after chemoradiation (without surgery), esophagectomy might be an option if a person is healthy enough. If surgery is not possible, treatment options might include chemotherapy or other treatments to help prevent or relieve symptoms.

Esophageal cancer that recurs in distant parts of the body is treated like a stage IV cancer (see “Treating cancer of the esophagus by stage” for more details). Palliative treatments (see next section) are used as needed. For more on dealing with a recurrence, see When Your Cancer Comes Back: Cancer Recurrence.

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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