Treating swallowing problems for oesophageal cancer

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


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

You can get more information on diet from the Oesophageal Patients Association.

If stenting is not possible, other treatments you might have are stretching (dilatation) or laser treatment (see below).

Stretching (dilatation)

The doctor stretches the oesophagus using a tube. This is to make more space for food and fluid to pass through. Stretching is often done after radiotherapy or surgery.

It is a simple and quick procedure, and may be done under a general or local anaesthetic. You may need to have the procedure more than once.

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. Sometimes, you may have a general anaesthetic. Usually, you can go home the same day.

It may take 2 to 3 sessions of laser treatment to clear your oesophagus enough for you to be able to swallow normally. You may need further treatments after 4 to 6 weeks. You are unlikely to feel any pain after the procedure. But there may be some temporary swelling, which may make 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.

A treatment called argon plasma coagulation (APC) can be used to make swallowing more comfortable. You specialist can tell you more about this and whether it might help.


Back to Supportive and other treatments for oesophageal cancer

Advanced oesophageal cancer

Advanced cancer means it has spread from the oesophagus. Although treatment cannot cure the cancer, it can help improve symptoms.