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Education Resources

Esophageal Cancer Treatment Options

There are different types of treatment for patients with esophageal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the most commonly used), and some are being tested in clinical trials. Each patient’s treatment plan will be created based on the stage and location of the cancer and will likely include more than one of the following:

  • Surgery. This is the most common treatment for cancer of the esophagus. Part of the esophagus may be removed in an operation called an esophagectomy.
  • Radiation therapy. A treatment that uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. The 2 main types of radiation therapy used to treat esophageal cancer are external-beam radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy). A plastic tube may be inserted into the esophagus to keep it open during radiation therapy. This is called intraluminal intubation and dilation.
  • Chemotherapy. The use of drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
  • Chemoradiation therapy. A combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy is often recommended for certain types of tumors and/or when the cancer is located in the upper esophagus.
  • Immunotherapy. Designed to boost the body's natural defenses to fight the cancer. It may be used when first-line chemotherapy has stopped working.
  • Targeted therapy. A treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. Targeted therapy for esophageal cancer includes HER2-targeted therapy and anti-angiogenesis therapy.
  • Laser therapy. The use of a laser beam to kill cancer cells.
  • Electrocoagulation. The use of an electric current to kill cancer cells.

Nutritional Needs During Treatment for Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer can make it harder for patients to eat due to having trouble swallowing. Because of this, your cancer care team will include a registered dietitian who will help you understand how to get the nutrition you need to stay strong during and after treatment.

In some cases, a feeding tube (a flexible plastic tube that is passed through the nose or mouth into the stomach) will be needed until the patient is able to eat on their own. Your oncologist and dietitian will be able to talk with you more about this and answer any questions you may have.