The treatment of esophageal cancer depends on its type, stage, and location. Also, the patient’s physical health, age, and the presence of any other medical disorders are of vital significance to the treatment process.
The treatment of esophageal cancer almost always requires a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. When the cancer is advanced, the treatment choices are more difficult. Even though the goal of all treatment is to remove the cancer, this is seldom possible with esophageal cancer.
When there is doubt that the cancer can be removed, palliative care is usually offered. Palliative care is designed to offer the best quality of life for the patient, but is not curative. Because of so many variations in treatment, it is always wise to seek a second opinion.
Common Treatment Options
- Surgery: Surgery is often offered to patients with esophageal cancer. Sometimes surgery is performed as a curative procedure. In other cases, it is simply performed to relieve the symptoms. In almost all cases where surgery is undertaken, the entire esophagus is removed and replaced with a tube made out of tissue from the stomach. In some rare cases, the esophagus is replaced with the colon. Surgery of the esophagus is technically demanding and fraught with complications. One should always seek a surgeon or a hospital where such surgeries are commonly performed.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is often used to treat cancers of the esophagus. Sometimes the treatment is administered before surgery to shrink the tumor. In other cases it is administered after the surgery to treat any residual cancer. Even though side effects are common with chemotherapy, not everyone will experience the same side effects. In any case, there are medications to relieve the side effects.
- Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy is also frequently used to treat esophageal cancer. Often it is combined with chemotherapy. Radiation’s primary purpose is to relieve pain and help shrink the tumor. Radiation does have side effects, including the development of leathery skin, redness, lung scarring, loss of appetite, nausea, and ulcers in the mouth. The majority of side effects are not permanent but can be serious.
- Photodynamic Therapy: This therapy uses a laser to kill the cancer. It is often used to relieve obstruction and ease the pain. The treatment is not curative, but palliative.
- Stenting: Many individuals with esophageal cancer are in the terminal stages and are not able to swallow. Stenting is now frequently recommended as a means to open up the esophagus and relieve pain. Stenting is a non surgical procedure and can be performed as an outpatient procedure.
Other Treatment Options
Esophageal cancer is difficult to treat. The majority of patients present late and cure is impossible. The success of present day treatments is poor and thus, new treatments are always being investigated. Currently, scientists are investigating the role of gene therapy and targeted immunotherapy to treat esophageal cancer. Before you participate in a clinical trial, talk to your specialist and seek other medical counsel in order to make a well-informed decision regarding the investigative treatment. While the clinical trials treatments are free, they are still experimental and there is no guarantee of success.