Esophageal Cancer Treatment

Providing expert treatment options for cancer of the esophagus.

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Upper GI cancer specialist examing an esophageal cancer patient

There are many treatment choices for esophageal cancer. Which may work best for you will depend on a number of factors. These include the cancer type, the tumor size and where it is, and the stage of the cancer. Factors also include your age, overall health, and what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel and function after treatment, and if you’ll have to change your normal activities.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. He or she can tell you what your treatment choices are, how well they’re expected to work, and what the risks and side effects are. Your healthcare provider may advise a specific treatment. Or you may be offered more than one, and asked to decide which one you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It's important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Understanding the goals of treatment for esophageal cancer

For some esophageal cancers, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If a cure isn’t possible, you may get treatment to help shrink the tumor. Or treatment may keep it under control for as long as possible. Treatment can also improve your quality of life. It does this by helping to control the problems caused by the cancer, like bleeding or trouble swallowing. The goals of treatment include:

  • Removing or destroying the cancer in the esophagus
  • Removing or destroying tumors in other parts of your body
  • Killing or stopping the growth or spread of esophageal cancer cells
  • Preventing or delaying the cancer's return
  • Easing symptoms from the cancer. These can include pain, trouble swallowing, or pressure on other organs.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to detect early signs or symptoms of esophageal cancer. Sometimes it isn’t caught until it is advanced, and symptoms are present. At later stages, the focus of treatment is controlling the cancer.


Esophageal cancer treatment options

There are several types of treatment for esophageal cancer, and many people undergo a combination of treatments.

  • Surgery is the most common treatment. An esophagectomy is the removal of the majority of the esophagus. The surgeon can connect the remaining part to the stomach so you can still swallow. Lymph nodes are removed and checked under the microscope for cancer. If the tumor blocks the esophagus, a stent (a special small tube) may be used to keep it open, in combination with other treatments.
  • Radiation uses high-energy X-rays or other radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body.

Talk to your doctor about these and other options for treating esophageal cancer. Researchers are discovering new therapies for treating cancer all the time, giving doctors new resources for your care. 

Esophageal and Upper GI cancer experts

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. Our team features some of the region’s most recognized specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.

Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.

Legacy Health collaborates with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to advance cancer care in our region. By working together, you benefit from the strength of both leaders in cancer care. As an integrated community cancer program for adults, we make sure that you have access to the latest treatments, technology and research available.

What happens next

Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can cause challenging side effects. Your cancer team is dedicated to helping you manage these side effects in the best ways possible. Comfort care can treat symptoms to help improve your quality of life; this is also called palliative care.

If you have difficulty swallowing while you recover, your team can help find alternative ways for you to receive nutrition. You may meet with a speech and language therapist who can help you with recovery from your cancer treatment.

To see how well your treatment is working, some of the tests used to diagnose and stage your cancer may be repeated. Your doctor uses these tests to decide whether to stop, change or continue treatment based on the results. These tests can also determine if cancer has returned. Whenever possible, we work to stop the growth of cancer and reduce the chance of cancer coming back. 

More support

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.

Nurse navigators
Legacy Cancer Healing Center 
Support groups and classes
Cancer rehabilitation 
Survivorship services