Treatments for esophageal cancer

If you have esophageal cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for esophageal cancer, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the stage of the cancer
  • where the tumour is in the esophagus (location)
  • the type of esophageal cancer
  • your overall health
  • your personal preferences

Before your healthcare team decides which treatments to offer you, they will look at your overall health to see what types of treatment you can handle. They will check your lungs and heart to make sure they are working properly.

People diagnosed with esophageal cancer often have difficulty eating. Your healthcare team will check your weight and how well you have been eating. You may need nutritional supplements, a feeding tube or intravenous feeding for a few days before and after surgery to gain weight and improve your nutrition and health. You may also need antibiotics to prevent or treat infections if poor nutrition has weakened your immune system.

If you are a smoker, it's very important to quit smoking before starting treatment. Smokers have a higher risk for side effects and complications during treatment for esophageal cancer. Treatment may not work as well in smokers as it does in non-smokers.

You may be offered one or a combination of the following treatments for esophageal cancer.

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Esophagus Cancer. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society; 2013.
  • Esophageal cancer treatment options. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Cancer.Net. Alexandria, VA.: American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO); 2013.
  • Baldwin, K. M. et al . Esophageal cancer treatment and management. eMedicine.com. Omaha: eMedicine, Inc; 2014.
  • Baldwin, K.M. et al . Esophageal cancer. eMedicine.com. Omaha: eMedicine, Inc; 2014.
  • BC Cancer Agency. Esophagus. Vancouver: BC Cancer Agency; 2012.
  • Esophageal and esophagogastric junction. BC Cancer Agency (BCCA). Cancer Management Guidelines. BC Cancer Agency; 2013.
  • Oesophageal cancer. Cancer Research UK. CancerHelp UK. Cancer Research UK; 2014.
  • National Cancer Institute. Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute; 2014.
  • Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancers. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. National Comprehensive Cancer Network; 2013.

Treatments for stage 0 esophageal cancer

A number of treatments may be used for stage 0 esophageal cancer. Learn about treatments, including surgery, EMR, PDT and radiofrequency ablation.

Treatments for stage 1 esophageal cancer

A number of treatments may be used for stage 1 esophageal cancer. Learn about treatment options, including surgery, EMR, chemoradiation and chemotherapy.

Treatments for stage 2 esophageal cancer

A number of treatments may be used for stage 2 esophageal cancer. Learn about treatments, including surgery, chemoradiation and chemotherapy.

Treatments for stage 3 esophageal cancer

Different treatments may be used for stage 3 esophageal cancer. Learn about treatments, including surgery, chemoradiation and chemotherapy.

Treatments for stage 4 esophageal cancer

Treatments for stage IV esophageal cancer can relieve symptoms and improve quality of life. Learn about surgery, radiation, laser and other treatments used.

Treatments for recurrent esophageal cancer

Treatments for recurrent esophageal cancer include surgery, chemoradiation, laser and targeted therapy. Learn about treatment options.

Surgery for esophageal cancer

Surgery is often used to treat esophageal cancer. Learn about esophagectomy and other types of surgery used to treat esophageal cancer.

Radiation therapy for esophageal cancer

Esophageal cancer is commonly treated with radiation therapy. Learn about radiation and chemoradiation and how they are used to treat esophageal cancer.

Chemotherapy for esophageal cancer

Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat esophageal cancer. Learn how and when chemotherapy is used and what chemotherapy drugs are used.

Targeted therapy for esophageal cancer

Targeted therapy is sometimes used to treat esophageal cancer. Learn about targeted therapy drugs used to treat esophageal cancer.

Immunotherapy for esophageal cancer

Some people with esophageal cancer will have immunotherapy. Immunotherapy helps to strengthen or restore the immune system's ability to fight cancer.

Endoscopic treatments

Endoscopic treatments are done using an endoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens) placed in the esophagus. They are used to relieve the symptoms of advanced esophageal cancer, such as difficulty swallowing, or may also be used to treat precancerous conditions and early stage cancers in the esophagus.

Follow-up after treatment for esophageal cancer

Follow-up after esophageal cancer treatment varies. Learn about scheduled follow-up appointments and the procedures and tests that may be done.