Treating swallowing problems

If you find swallowing difficult because the cancer is blocking your oesophagus, your doctor may suggest one or more of the treatments we list here. The treatments may need to be repeated.

Stenting

Your cancer doctor may suggest putting a wire-mesh tube into the oesophagus using an endoscope. The tube is called a stent. Having a stent put in is similar to having an endoscopy.

The stent helps keep the oesophagus open, so food can pass through more easily. This makes eating more comfortable, but you may have to avoid certain types of food to stop the stent from getting blocked.

It is important to be careful with your diet to make sure the tube does not get blocked. Drinking fizzy drinks after eating can help keep the tube clean and clear.

Stretching (dilation)

Your surgeon may offer this treatment if it is not possible to put a stent into the oesophagus. Using an endoscope, the surgeon passes a small dilator or expanding balloon into the oesophagus. This stretches the oesophagus and makes more space for food and fluid to pass through. Stretching may be done after radiotherapy or surgery.

It is a simple and quick procedure. It may be done under a general anaesthetic or with medicine to make you feel sleepy (sedation). You may need to have the procedure more than once.

Laser treatment

Laser treatment is sometimes used to improve swallowing difficulties. Laser treatment is a powerful beam of light. It can destroy some of the cancer that is blocking the oesophagus. This helps food pass through the oesophagus more easily.

Having laser treatment is similar to having an endoscopy. It takes about 15 minutes. You may need 2 or 3 sessions of treatment.

Laser treatment is not widely available in the UK, and you may have to travel to have it. Your cancer doctor can tell you whether laser treatment might be suitable for you.

Argon plasma coagulation (APC)

A type of laser treatment called argon plasma coagulation (APC) can be used to make swallowing more comfortable.

Your cancer specialist can tell you more about this treatment.