Treating Recurrent Esophageal Cancer

Recurrent means the cancer has come back after treatment. The recurrence may be local (near the area of the initial tumor), or it may be in distant organs.

Local recurrence

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) , radiation and/or chemotherapy may be used after the esophagus has been removed. Radiation may not be an option if it was already given as part of the initial treatment. Ifchemotherapy 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 the person is healthy enough. If surgery is not possible, treatment options might include chemotherapy or other treatments to help prevent or relieve symptoms.

Distant recurrence

Esophageal cancer that recurs in distant parts of the body is treated like a stage IV cancer. (See Treating Esophageal Cancer by Stage for more details.)

Your options depend on which, if any, drugs you received before the cancer came back and how long ago you received them, as well as on your health. Radiation therapy may be an option to relieve symptoms as well.

Recurrent cancers can often be hard to treat, so you might also want to ask your doctor if you might be eligible for clinical trials involving newer treatments.

Managing symptoms of recurrent esophageal cancer

People with recurrent esophageal cancer will usually be given treatments aimed at preventing or relieving symptoms as needed. Learn more in Palliative Therapy for Esophageal Cancer

For more on dealing with cancer recurrence, see Understanding Recurrence.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Last Medical Review: June 14, 2017 Last Revised: June 14, 2017

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