Our 24/7 cancer helpline provides information and answers for people dealing with cancer. We can connect you with trained cancer information specialists who will answer questions about a cancer diagnosis and provide guidance and a compassionate ear.
Our highly trained specialists are available 24/7 via phone and on weekdays can assist through video calls and online chat. We connect patients, caregivers, and family members with essential services and resources at every step of their cancer journey. Ask us how you can get involved and support the fight against cancer. Some of the topics we can assist with include:
For medical questions, we encourage you to review our information with your doctor.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (such as x-rays) or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is often combined with other types of treatment, such as chemotherapy (chemo) and/or surgery, to treat esophageal cancer. Chemotherapy can make radiation therapy more effective against some esophagus cancers. Using these 2 treatments together is called chemoradiation.
Radiation therapy may be used:
There are 2 main types of radiation therapy used to treat esophageal cancer.
External-beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is the type of radiation therapy used most often for people with esophageal cancer. The radiation is focused on the cancer from a machine outside the body. It is much like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is more intense. How often and how long the radiation treatments are delivered depends on the reason the radiation is being given and other factors. It can last anywhere from a few days to weeks.
Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy) is a type of radiation where the doctor passes an endoscope (a long, flexible tube) down the throat to place radioactive material very close to the cancer. The radiation travels only a short distance, so it reaches the tumor but has little effect on nearby normal tissues. This usually means fewer side effects than with external beam radiation. The radioactive source is removed a short time later.
Brachytherapy is not used often to treat esophageal cancer, but might be helpful with more advanced esophageal cancers to shrink tumors so a patient can swallow more easily. This technique 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).
Brachytherapy can be given 2 ways:
Other types of radiation, such as IMRT (a type of EBRT) as well as proton therapy, are being studied to treat esophageal cancer.
If you are going to get radiation therapy, it’s important to ask your doctor beforehand about the possible side effects so you know what to expect. Possible Side effects of external radiation therapy can include:
These side effects are often worse if chemotherapy is given at the same time as radiation.
Most side effects of radiation are temporary, but some less common side effects can be permanent. For example, in some cases radiation can cause a stricture (narrowing) in the esophagus, which might require more treatment. Radiation to the chest can cause lung damage, which may lead to problems breathing and shortness of breath.
If you notice any side effects, talk to your doctor right away so steps can be taken to lessen them.
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.
Egyud MR, Tseng JF, Suzuki K. Multidisciplinary Therapy of Esophageal Cancer. Surg Clin North Am. 2019;99(3):419-437. doi: 10.1016/j.suc.2019.02.002. Epub 2019 Mar 30.
Ku GY and Ilson DH. Chapter 71 – Cancer of the Esophagus. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Dorshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff’s Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa. Elsevier: 2020.
National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ)-Health Professional Version. Esophageal Cancer Treatment. 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/hp/esophageal-treatment-pdq on Jan 14, 2020.
National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ)-Patient Version. Esophageal Cancer Treatment. 2019. Accessed at https://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/patient/esophageal-treatment-pdq#_159 on Jan 14, 2020.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN). NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Esophageal and Esophagogastric Junction Cancers. V.4.2019. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/esophageal.pdf on Jan 14, 2020.
Posner MC, Goodman KA, and Ilson DH. Ch 52 - Cancer of the Esophagus. In: DeVita VT, Hellman S, Rosenberg SA, eds. DeVita, Hellman, and Rosenberg’s Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott-Williams & Wilkins; 2019.
van Hagen P, Hulshof MC, van Lanschot JJ, et al. Preoperative chemoradiotherapy for esophageal or junctional cancer. N Engl J Med. 2012;366:2074–2084.
Last Revised: March 20, 2020
Donate now so we can continue to provide access to critical cancer information, resources, and support to improve lives of people with cancer and their families.