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Esophageal Cancer Treatment

Our Treatment Approach

When you are treated at MD Anderson for esophageal cancer, you are the focus of an incredible team of experts that personalizes your care. This helps increase your odds for successful treatment and maintaining the highest quality of life.

This group of oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, as well as a specially trained support staff, is focused solely on esophageal cancer. This dedication and each person's level of experience -- sets this program apart from most others.

Experience Matters

Studies have shown that people have better outcomes in cancer programs that treat a high level of patients. We have one of the most active esophageal cancer programs in the nation. We offer many innovative treatments for esophageal cancer, including:

  • Minimally invasive surgeries and procedures, including photodynamic therapy
  • Endoscopic surgery for early disease
  • Other specialized surgical procedures
  • Proton therapy
  • Targeted therapies

In addition, our status as a major research site allows us to have a full range of clinical trials (research studies) for esophageal cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, we're here to help. Call 1-877-632-6789 to make an appointment or request an appointment online.

Why Choose MD Anderson?

  • Innovative esophageal cancer treatments including proton therapy, minimally invasive surgery, photodynamic therapy and targeted therapies
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection for early stage disease
  • One of the most-active programs in the country
  • Advanced diagnostic tools including video endoscopy
  • Clinical trials of new therapies

Esophageal Cancer Knowledge Center

Treatment at MD Anderson

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Esophageal Cancer Treatments

If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including the type and stage of the cancer and your general health. Your treatment for esophageal cancer will be customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.


This is the most common treatment for esophageal cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes. The procedure most often performed is an esophagectomy, and there are several methods to perform it. Your doctor will recommend the best technique for you based on the location of the tumor and if it has spread.

Generally, the surgery includes removal of:

  • All or part of the esophagus
  • Part of the stomach
  • Lymph nodes that are close to the esophagus

The remaining stomach is pulled up into the chest or neck and connected to the remaining esophagus. You may need a feeding tube (a small tube that is inserted into the nose or mouth and into the stomach) until you are able to eat.

Side effects of the surgery may include:

  • Leaking at the site where the stomach and esophagus are joined. This may mean the stomach empties slowly, causing nausea and vomiting.
  • Trouble swallowing: An upper endoscopy to stretch passages may help
  • Heartburn
  • Digestive problems: You may be able to eat only small amounts of food at a time

To treat more-advanced stages of esophageal cancer, surgery may be combined with chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.

Radiation Therapy

New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.

MD Anderson provides the most advanced radiation treatments for esophageal cancer, including (links):

  • Brachytherapy: Tiny radioactive seeds are placed in the body close to the tumor
  • 3D-conformal radiation therapy: Several radiation beams are given in the exact shape of the tumor
  • Intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT): Treatment is tailored to the specific shape of the tumor

Proton Therapy

The Proton Therapy Center at MD Anderson is one of the world's largest and most advanced centers in the world. It's the only proton therapy facility in the country located within a comprehensive cancer center. This means that this cutting-edge therapy is backed by all the expertise and compassionate care for which MD Anderson is famous.

Proton therapy delivers high radiation doses directly to the tumor site, with no damage to nearby healthy tissue. For some patients, this therapy results in better cancer control with fewer side effects.

Chemotherapy: MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced chemotherapy options for esophageal cancer.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT): Laser-sensitive chemicals are injected into the esophageal cancer site. A laser beam then targets the chemicals to destroy the tumor. It may also be used to treat Barrett's esophagus or to help if a tumor is blocking the esophagus but cannot be treated with other methods.

Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR): This minimally invasive technique may be used if the cancer is small and only on the surface of the esophagus. A needle is placed in the esophageal wall, and then saline (saltwater) is injected to make a bubble under the growth. Using suction, the lesion is removed.

Esophageal stents: Small, expandable metal or plastic tubes are placed over the tumor with the aid of an endoscope. Once placed, the stent can expand and open up the blocked part of the esophagus, allowing food and liquids to pass through easier.

Electrocoagulation: Electricity is used to burn off the tumor.

Targeted therapies: MD Anderson is among just a few cancer centers in the nation that are able to offer targeted therapies for some types of esophageal cancer. These innovative new drugs stop the growth of cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that supply the tumor with what it needs to grow.

Our Esophageal Cancer Clinical Trials

Since MD Anderson is one of the nation's leading research centers, we're able to offer clinical trials (research studies) of new treatments for every type and stage of esophageal cancer.

To find out more about clinical trials at MD Anderson for esophageal cancer, visit our Clinical Trials database or speak to your doctor.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center