Treatment of Esophageal Cancer

Treatment options for esophageal cancer depend on the following factors:

  • where the cancer is located within the esophagus
  • whether the cancer has invaded nearby structures
  • whether the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs
  • your symptoms
  • your general health
These are the esophageal cancer treatment options:


There are several types of surgery for esophageal cancer. The type depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole esophagus or only the part that has the cancer. Usually, the surgeon removes the section of the esophagus with the cancer, lymph nodes, and nearby soft tissues. Part or all of the stomach may also be removed.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the treated area. Radiation therapy may be used before or after surgery. It may be used instead of surgery. Radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy to treat esophageal cancer. Two types of radiation therapies are used to treat esophageal cancer:
  • External radiation therapy: The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. The machine aims radiation at your cancer.
  • Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy): The doctor numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray and gives you medicine to help you relax. The doctor puts a tube into your esophagus. The radiation comes from the tube.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs for esophageal cancer are usually given through a vein. Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles. Each cycle has a treatment period followed by a rest period. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drug can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly such as blood cells, cells in hair roots and cells that line the digestive tract.


It’s important to meet your nutrition needs before, during, and after cancer treatment. You need the right amount of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals. Getting the right nutrition can help you feel better and have more energy. If you develop problems with eating, there are a number of ways to meet your nutrition needs. A registered dietitian can help you figure out a way to get enough calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals:
  • A dietitian may suggest a change in the types of foods you eat. Sometimes changing the texture, fiber, and fat content of your foods can lessen your discomfort. A dietitian may also suggest a change in the portion size and meal times.
  • A dietitian may recommend liquid meals, such as canned nutrition beverages, milk shakes, or smoothies.
  • If swallowing becomes too difficult, your dietitian and your doctor may recommend that you receive nutrition through a feeding tube.
  • Sometimes, nutrition is provided directly into the bloodstream with intravenous nutrition. If your stomach is removed during surgery, you may develop a problem afterward known as the dumping syndrome. This problem occurs when food or liquid enters the small intestine too fast. It can cause cramps, nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and dizziness. There are steps you can take to help control dumping syndrome:
    • Eat smaller meals.
    • Drink liquids before or after eating solid meals.
    • Limit very sweet foods and drinks, such as cookies, candy, soda, and juices.

Follow-Up Care

You’ll need checkups after treatment for esophageal cancer. Checkups help ensure that any changes in your health are noted and treated if needed. If you have any health problems between checkups, you should contact your doctor. Checkups may include a physical exam, blood tests, chest x-ray, CT scans, endoscopy, or other tests. Contact us to request an appointment with one of the oncologists at Diablo Valley Oncology to discuss the treatment options available to treat your esophageal cancer.