Other treatments

Sometimes, other types of treatment may be appropriate. For example, if you have pre-cancerous changes to the cells in the oesophagus your doctors may suggest you have radiofrequency ablation (RFA). It uses a probe to heat the cells to a very high temperature and destroy them.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a treatment that uses a laser and a light sensitive drug to destroy cancer cells. It may be suitable to treat very early-stage cancer.

Argon plasma coagulation (APC) is a type of treatment that uses argon gas and a probe to apply electricity to the affected area.

Some people with oesophageal cancer can be treated with the targeted therapy drug Herceptin. Targeted therapies are drugs that affect the way cells interact. Other targeted therapy drugs may be used to treat oesophageal cancer. Your doctor will advise you.

Radiofrequency ablation (RFA)

RFA uses heat to destroy cancer cells. It’s mainly used to treat pre-cancerous changes to the cells in the oesophagus (Barrett’s oesophagus). It’s sometimes used after endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR).

RFA uses a probe called an electrode to apply an electrical current (radiofrequency) to the tumour. The electrical current heats the cells to high temperatures, which destroys (ablates) them. The cells die and the area that’s been treated gradually shrinks and becomes scar tissue. Some people may need to be treated more than once.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT)

PDT uses a laser and a light-sensitive drug to destroy cancer cells. PDT is only used in a few specialist hospitals in the UK. If the treatment is suitable for you, you may have to travel to another hospital to have it.

This treatment is most commonly used to help with difficulty swallowing. It’s also sometimes used instead of surgery to treat very early-stage (stage 1) oesophageal cancer found in the mucosal layer.

PDT is given in two stages. First, you’ll be given a drug that makes the cells more sensitive to light (a photosensitiser). This is usually given as an injection into a vein in your arm (intravenously).

A laser is then directed on to the cells, using an endoscope. The laser activates the drug to destroy the cells.

The treatment will make you sensitive to light so try to avoid being in the sun for a few days.

PDT may make the area in the oesophagus temporarily inflamed and swollen. At first, this can make swallowing more difficult.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) gives advice about which new treatments should be available on the NHS. It reviewed the use of PDT to treat early oesophageal cancer in 2006. The review said that PDT is safe to use, but that more evidence is needed to know how effective it is. It’s not yet known how well it works and how it compares with surgery.

Talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of PDT, and of other treatments that may be available. NICE suggests that doctors use PDT in clinical research trials if possible. NICE also suggests that patients are followed up to check their progress.

The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) is a similar organisation to NICE, but it gives advice to the NHS in Scotland. It recommends PDT as a possible treatment following EMR or to treat difficulty swallowing.

Argon plasma coagulation (APC)

APC is sometimes recommended as a treatment after endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), or if swallowing is difficult. Using an endoscope, a probe is placed close to the area to be treated. A combination of argon gas and electricity is used to destroy the cancer.

Your doctor or specialist nurse can give you more information about APC.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapies (sometimes known as biological therapies) are drugs that mimic substances that occur naturally in the body to destroy cancer cells. They work by changing the way that cells interact with or signal to each other.

Trastuzumab (Herceptin®) is a type of targeted therapy called a monoclonal antibody. It works by attaching to a receptor called HER2 on the surface of certain cancer cells. This stops the cancer cells dividing and growing.

Herceptin is mainly used to treat breast cancer. But it can also be used to treat some advanced oesophageal cancers, found in the area where the oesophagus joins to the stomach (the gastro-oesophageal junction). It’s used in combination with chemotherapy.

Herceptin is only suitable for people with oesophageal cancers that have HER2 receptors.

Other targeted therapy drugs may also be used to treat oesophageal cancer. You may be asked to take part in a clinical trial.

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.

Treating swallowing problems

Cancer may block the oesophagus and cause swallowing problems. Different types of treatment are available to help.

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.