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Esophageal Cancer Treatment

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, photodynamic therapy, targeted therapies and endoscopic surgery for early stage disease. In addition, our status as a major research site allows us to offer a full range of clinical trials for esophageal cancer.

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.

Surgery

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:

  • 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

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. MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center treats some esophageal cancers.

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: These innovative drugs stop the growth of esophageal cancer cells by interfering with certain proteins and receptors or blood vessels that allow the tumor to grow.

Treatment at MD Anderson

Esophageal cancer is treated in our Gastrointestinal Care Center.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about esophageal cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.

Counseling

MD Anderson has licensed social workers to help patients and their loved ones cope with cancer.

myCancerConnection

Talk to someone who shares your cancer diagnosis and be matched with a survivor.

Prevention and Screening

Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.