Treatment overview

Treatment overview

The treatment you have will depend on the type of oesophageal cancer you have, its stage, where it is and on your general health.

It’s important to understand why a particular treatment has been suggested for you. You can discuss possible treatments with your doctor or specialist nurse.

Oesophageal cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The treatments can be used alone or in combination.

Treatment may be given to cure the cancer. If a cure isn’t possible, it can be given with the aim of controlling the cancer and relieving your symptoms.

When planning treatment, the doctors consider the oesophagus in three sections: upper, middle and lower.

Treating early-stage oesophageal cancer

If you have an early oesophageal cancer that hasn’t spread (stage 1), you may be offered surgery to remove the cancer, or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This is called chemoradiotherapy. In some circumstances, you may be offered endoscopic mucosal resection.

If the cancer has begun to spread (stage 2 or 3), you may be offered chemotherapy, or sometimes chemoradiotherapy, followed by an operation. Chemotherapy is sometimes also given again after surgery. If you aren’t fit enough for chemotherapy, you may be offered surgery or radiotherapy.

If the tumour is difficult to remove with an operation, you may first be offered chemoradiotherapy. This can sometimes make surgery possible.

Treating advanced-stage oesophageal cancer

If you have advanced oesophageal cancer (stage 4), or aren’t fit enough to have certain treatments, you may still be offered chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This is to help control the cancer and improve symptoms.

Other treatments may be used to help with any swallowing difficulties you may have. These include:

  • intubation or stenting (inserting a tube into the oesophagus to keep it open)
  • dilatation (stretching the oesophagus)
  • laser treatment and photodynamic therapy (PDT).

You may be offered one or more of these treatments.

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