Esophageal cancer treatment may vary depending on the stage of cancer. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy.

After a person receives an esophageal cancer diagnosis, their doctor can recommend the most appropriate treatment plan for treating cancer. This is typically based on the stage of cancer, the type of cancerous cells, and the overall health of the individual.

This article looks at the main types of treatment for esophageal cancer.

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If esophageal cancer is in its early stage, or if it is localized, surgery may be an option. Doctors may be able to remove small tumors when cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.

A person may also need to undergo surgery if they require an esophagectomy or esophagogastrectomy. An esophagectomy is the partial removal of the esophagus. An esophagogastrectomy is the removal of both the esophagus and the upper part of the stomach.

Doctors may also recommend undergoing surgery to remove lymph nodes where the cancer has spread to.

Chemotherapy includes a variety of anticancer drugs. Doctors can give these medications orally or intravenously. Chemotherapy medications travel through the bloodstream, and they can typically reach cancerous cells in any part of the body.

Doctors may recommend chemotherapy at different stages.

Before surgery

Neoadjuvant chemotherapy refers to chemotherapy that doctors may give to try and reduce the size of the tumor so that they can remove it more easily during surgery.

This can also reduce the risk of cancer coming back after its surgical removal and improve the outlook of the individual.

Learn more about neoadjuvant chemotherapy.

After surgery

Doctors may recommend undergoing adjuvant chemotherapy, which is chemotherapy after the surgery, to remove any cancerous cells that may remain or that were too small for imaging tests to detect.

Doctors often recommend adjuvant chemotherapy alongside radiation therapy.

Learn about the difference between neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapy.

Advanced-stage esophageal cancer

Chemotherapy may help treat cancer that has spread to other organs during the more advanced stages of esophageal cancer. Chemotherapy can also help shrink tumors and reduce the symptoms of cancer.

Chemotherapy may help people who cannot undergo surgery live longer. It may also help slow down cancer progression.

Learn more about chemotherapy.

Radiation therapy uses high intensity radiation that can destroy cancerous cells. This procedure is also known as external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). The process is similar to getting an X-ray.

Doctors can also use radiation therapy to shrink tumors before surgically removing them or to help manage the localized growth of tumors in certain areas of the body.

In some cases, doctors may use another type of procedure called internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy. Its aim is mainly to reduce esophageal cancer symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, as this procedure may reduce the size of the tumors in the esophagus.

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Chemoradiation is a type of treatment in which a person receives a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Doctors may recommend this type of treatment to people who for health reasons cannot undergo surgery or if it is not possible to surgically remove the cancer. This includes more advanced stages of esophageal cancer.

Learn about the difference between chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Targeted therapy mainly focuses on specific changes that cancerous cells develop when compared to healthy cells. These medications act on these changes by blocking them, which can kill the cancerous cell.

Doctors may recommend targeted therapy to people with an advanced stage of esophageal cancer or to those whose cancer did not respond to other types of treatment. Targeted therapy is often given in combination with chemotherapy.

Cancer cells typically produce proteins that make it difficult for the human immune system to recognize them. Immunotherapy typically focuses on interfering with this process and helping a person’s immune system recognize cancerous cells and kill them.

Doctors usually recommend immunotherapy to people with esophageal cancer in its advanced stages, if it has come back, or if it has spread to other areas of the body.

The treatment the doctor may recommend to a person with esophageal cancer may vary depending on the stage of the cancer.

In its early stages, it may be possible to surgically remove the tumor. Doctors may also recommend radiation therapy and chemotherapy to treat the cancer.

In the more advanced stages of cancer, or if surgery may not be an available option, people may need to undergo a combination of chemoradiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Doctors can recommend the most appropriate type of treatment for esophageal cancer based on the stage and the extent of the cancer.

After the diagnosis, a person’s doctor will discuss with them what treatment options they recommend and what each one involves.

They will also be able to answer any questions the person may have so that they can make an informed decision about their treatment plan.

Here are some more frequently asked questions about esophageal cancer treatment.

Can you be cured from esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer does not often have a positive outcome. However, depending on the stage of cancer at diagnosis and how the body reacts to the treatment, it is possible to remove the cancer.

It is important to note that the outlook will vary for each individual. A person’s doctor will be able to advise on what their outlook might look like.

What is the best treatment for esophageal cancer?

Surgery is one of the main types of treatment for esophageal cancer in its early stages. However, the most appropriate treatment may vary depending on the stage of cancer and other factors.

Can esophageal cancer be treated without surgery?

Doctors can treat esophageal cancer without surgery. Treatment options may include radiotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. It may also be possible to manage certain symptoms without surgery.

A person’s doctor will discuss their options with them so that they can make an informed decision about their treatment.

What is the life expectancy for esophageal cancer?

The 5-year survival rate of esophageal cancer is less than 20%. However, life expectancy can vary depending on the stage of cancer at diagnosis. An early diagnosis may help improve the outlook of a person with a diagnosis of this type of cancer.

The survival rate refers to the proportion of people who are still alive for a length of time after receiving a particular diagnosis. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 50% means that 50%, or half, of the people are still alive 5 years after receiving the diagnosis.

It is important to remember that these figures are estimates and are based on the results of previous studies or treatments. A person can consult a healthcare professional about how their condition is going to affect them.

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One of the most common treatments for esophageal cancer is surgery. In its early stages, doctors may be able to shrink an esophageal cancerous tumor with a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, or chemoradiation, and then surgically remove the tumor.

However, when a person cannot undergo surgery or cancer has spread throughout their body, doctors may use a combination of chemoradiation, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

Following an esophageal cancer diagnosis, a person’s doctor will be able to discuss their treatment options with them and answer any questions they may have.