Follow-up after treatment for esophageal cancer

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for esophageal cancer is often shared among the cancer specialists and your family doctor. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.

Don't wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don't go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • severe weight loss
  • chest or back pain

The chance that esophageal cancer will come back (recur) is greatest within 2 years, so you will need close follow-up during this time. How often you have follow-up visits with your healthcare team depends a lot on the stage of your cancer when you were diagnosed and what kind of treatment you have for esophageal cancer.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for esophageal cancer are usually scheduled:

  • every 3 to 6 months after initial treatment for 1 to 2 years
  • every 6 to 12 months for 3 to 5 years
  • once a year after 5 years

During follow-up visits

During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment and how you're coping. They may also ask about any problems you may have eating and check to make sure you haven't lost too much weight.

You may need to visit your healthcare team more often if you have had surgery, radiation therapy or photodynamic therapy (PDT). These treatments can cause the esophagus to narrow (called a stricture). Your healthcare team may need to do esophageal dilation regularly to help keep the esophagus open so you can swallow food and liquids.

Tests may be done if you have signs or symptoms that the esophageal cancer has come back:

If the cancer has come back, you and your healthcare team will discuss a plan for your treatment and care.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.

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.
  • 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.
  • Leichman L, Bodnar LM, Arshad II . Esophageal Carcinoma. Pollock, R. E., Doroshow, J. H. & Khayat, D. et al. (Eds.). UICC Manual of Clinical Oncology. 8th ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.; 2004: 19: pp. 429-446.
  • 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.
  • Posner, MC, Minsky BD, & Ilson DH . Cancer of the esophagus. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, & Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles & Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2011: 79: pp. 887-923.