Treating swallowing problems

If you find swallowing difficult because the cancer is blocking your oesophagus, there’s a lot that can be done to help make it easier. Your doctor may suggest one or more of the following treatments. The treatments may need to be repeated.

Stretching (dilatation)

The doctor stretches the oesophagus using a tube. This is to increase 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 and may be carried out under general or local anaesthetic. You may need to have the procedure repeated.

Intubation or stenting

A wire-mesh tube (called a stent) can be put into the oesophagus using an endoscope. The procedure is similar to an endoscopy. The tube helps keep the oesophagus open and should help you eat more comfortably.

It’s important to be careful with your diet to make sure the tube doesn’t become blocked. Drinking fizzy drinks after eating will help keep the tube clean and clear. You can find more information on diet from The Oesophageal Patients Association.

Laser treatment

Laser treatment can sometimes be used to remove enough of the tumour to allow food to pass down the oesophagus. The doctor will burn away some of the tumour using a powerful beam of light. The procedure is similar to having an endoscopy. It takes about 15 minutes.

Laser treatment is usually given under sedation with a local anaesthetic, and you can go home the same day. Sometimes it may be done using a general anaesthetic.

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. But there may be some temporary swelling, so you may find swallowing more difficult at first. You may also have some discomfort in your tummy (abdomen). If you have any pain, tell your doctor or nurse.

Other treatments can be used to make swallowing more comfortable. These are argon plasma coagulation (APC) and photodynamic therapy (PDT).

Back to Treating

Making treatment decisions

Your doctors may tell you there are different options for your treatment. Having the right information will help you make the right decision for you.


Surgery involves removing all or part of the cancer with an operation. It is an important treatment for many cancers.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to treat many different types of cancer. It is most commonly given as an injection into a vein or as tablets or capsules.


Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays, usually x-rays and similar rays (such as electrons) to treat cancer.

Advanced oesophageal cancer

Advanced cancer means it has spread from the oesophagus. Although treatment won’t be able to cure the cancer, it can help improve symptoms.

Clinical trials

Many people are offered a trial as part of treatment. Find out more to help you decide if a trial is right for you.

Life after cancer treatment

You might be thinking about how to get back to normal following treatment. Find advice, information and support about coping with and after cancer.