Standard treatments for esophageal cancer may include:
Surgery is the most common treatment for cancer of the esophagus. Part of the esophagus may be removed in an operation called an esophagectomy. A portion of the esophagus is removed. The doctor will connect the remaining healthy part of the esophagus to the stomach so the patient can still swallow. A plastic tube or part of the intestine may be used to make the connection. If the esophagus is partly blocked by the tumor, an expandable metal stent (tube) may be placed inside the esophagus to help keep it open.
Radiation Therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Laser therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a laser beam(a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.
Electrocoagulation is the use of an electric current to kill cancer cells.
Side Effects From Treatment
It helps to learn more about the side effects from your treatment(s) before you begin, so you will know what to expect. When you know more, you can work with your health care team to manage your quality of life during and after treatment.
There are effective and readily available medications to address traditional side effects from cancer treatment (such as nausea, diarrhea, constipation and mouth sores.) Also, as newer 'targeted therapies' become available, they tend to leave people with fewer traditional side effects.
Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently to treatment and experiences side effects differently. There are coping mechanisms and strategies that can help.
Surgery of the esophagus has some risks. A heart attack or a blood clot in the lungs or the brain can occur during or after the operation. Infection is a risk with any surgery and lung complications, such as pneumonia are common.
Although no longer common, a leak at the place where the stomach is connected to the esophagus may develop and require another operation. After the operation, the stomach may empty too slowly because the nerves that control its contractions can be affected by surgery, which can lead to frequent nausea and vomiting. Strictures (narrowing) can form where the esophagus is surgically connected to the stomach, which may cause problems swallowing for some patients.
After surgery, bile and stomach contents can enter the esophagus because the lower esophageal sphincter is often removed or changed by the surgery. This can cause symptoms such as heartburn. Sometimes antacids or motility drugs can help relieve these symptoms.
Side effects of external radiation therapy may include skin changes, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, painful sores in the mouth and throat and dry mouth or thick saliva. During treatment by external radiation, the radiation kills the normal cells in the lining, which can lead to painful swallowing. This starts shortly after beginning treatment but typically improves within a few weeks of finishing.
Most side effects of radiation are temporary, but some rare serious side effects can be permanent. In some cases, radiation to the chest can also cause lung damage, which may lead to problems breathing and shortness of breath.