Relieving difficulty in swallowing when you have oesophageal cancer
If you find swallowing difficult, there’s a lot that can be done to help make it easier.
Your doctor may suggest some chemotherapy, a short course of radiotherapy, or one or more of the following treatments.
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This involves the doctor stretching the oesophagus using a tube, to enlarge the space for food and fluid to pass through. Stretching is also often done after radiotherapy or surgery.
It’s a simple and quick procedure, which may be carried out under general or local anaesthetic. You may need to have the procedure repeated.
Intubation or stenting
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A plastic or wire-mesh tube (called a stent) can be put into the oesophagus using an endoscope. The procedure is similar to endoscopy. The tube helps keep the oesophagus open and should help you eat more comfortably. It’s important to take care with your diet to ensure the tube doesn’t become blocked. Drinking fizzy drinks after eating will help keep the tube clean and clear. Information on diet is available from the Oesophageal Patients Association.
Laser treatment can sometimes be used to remove enough of the tumour to allow food to pass down the oesophagus.
This treatment can sometimes be given under sedation with a local anaesthetic, in which case you can go home the same day. Occasionally, it may be done under a general anaesthetic. It‘s carried out using an endoscope, so is similar to having an endoscopy. It takes about 15 minutes.
It may take two or three sessions of laser treatment to clear your oesophagus enough for you to be able to swallow normally. Further treatments may be needed after 4-6 weeks. You’re unlikely to feel any pain after the procedure, although there may be some temporary swelling, which may make swallowing more difficult at first.
You may also have some discomfort in your abdomen. If you have any pain, tell your doctor or nurse.
This aims to shrink enough of the tumour to allow food to pass down the oesophagus. Using an endoscope, the tumour is injected with small amounts of ethanol (a type of alcohol). This usually makes it easier for people to swallow, though it can take a few days to work.
Other treatments that can be used to make swallowing more comfortable are argon plasma coagulation (APC) and photodynamic therapy (PDT).