National Cancer Institute


Posted Date: Jan 26, 2016

Expert-reviewed information summary about the treatment of esophageal cancer.

This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of esophageal cancer. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.

Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") is the date of the most recent change. The information in this patient summary was taken from the health professional version, which is reviewed regularly and updated as needed, by the PDQ Adult Treatment Editorial Board.

Esophageal Cancer Treatment

General Information About Esophageal Cancer

Key Points for this Section

  • Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus.
  • Smoking, heavy alcohol use, and Barrett esophagus can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer are weight loss and painful or difficult swallowing.
  • Tests that examine the esophagus are used to detect (find) and diagnose esophageal cancer.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus.

The esophagus is the hollow, muscular tube that moves food and liquid from the throat to the stomach. The wall of the esophagus is made up of several layers of tissue, including mucous membrane, muscle, and connective tissue. Esophageal cancer starts on the inside lining of the esophagus and spreads outward through the other layers as it grows.The esophagus and stomach are part of the upper gastrointestinal (digestive) system.

The two most common forms of esophageal cancer are named for the type of cells that become malignant ( cancerous):

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the esophagus. This cancer is most often found in the upper and middle part of the esophagus, but can occur anywhere along the esophagus. This is also called epidermoid carcinoma.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the esophagus produce and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinomas usually form in the lower part of the esophagus, near the stomach.

Smoking, heavy alcohol use, and Barrett esophagus can increase the risk of esophageal cancer.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors include the following:

  • Tobacco use.
  • Heavy alcohol use.
  • Barrett esophagus: A condition in which the cells lining the lower part of the esophagus have changed or been replaced with abnormal cells that could lead to cancer of the esophagus. Gastric reflux (the backing up of stomach contents into the lower section of the esophagus) may irritate the esophagus and, over time, cause Barrett esophagus.
  • Older age.

See the PDQ summary on Esophageal Cancer Prevention for more information.

Signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer are weight loss and painful or difficult swallowing.

These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by esophageal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Painful or difficult swallowing.
  • Weight loss.
  • Pain behind the breastbone.
  • Hoarseness and cough.
  • Indigestion and heartburn.

Tests that examine the esophagus are used to detect (find) and diagnose esophageal cancer.

The following tests and procedures may be used:

  • Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
  • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
  • Barium swallow: A series of x-rays of the esophagus and stomach. The patient drinks a liquid that contains barium (a silver-white metallic compound). The liquid coats the esophagus and stomach, and x-rays are taken. This procedure is also called an upper GI series.Barium swallow. The patient swallows barium liquid and it flows through the esophagus and into the stomach. X-rays are taken to look for abnormal areas.
  • Esophagoscopy: A procedure to look inside the esophagus to check for abnormal areas. An esophagoscope is inserted through the mouth or nose and down the throat into the esophagus. An esophagoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. When the esophagus and stomach are looked at, it is called an upper endoscopy. Esophagoscopy. A thin, lighted tube is inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus to look for abnormal areas.
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The biopsy is usually done during an esophagoscopy. Sometimes a biopsy shows changes in the esophagus that are not cancer but may lead to cancer.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer (whether it affects part of the esophagus, involves the whole esophagus, or has spread to other places in the body).
  • Whether the tumor can be completely removed by surgery.
  • The patient’s general health.

When esophageal cancer is found very early, there is a better chance of recovery. Esophageal cancer is often in an advanced stage when it is diagnosed. At later stages, esophageal cancer can be treated but rarely can be cured. Taking part in one of the clinical trials being done to improve treatment should be considered. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI website.

Stages of Esophageal Cancer

Key Points for this Section

  • After esophageal cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the esophagus or to other parts of the body.
  • There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
  • Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
  • The grade of the tumor is also used to describe the cancer and plan treatment.
  • The following stages are used for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus:
    • Stage 0 (High-grade Dysplasia)
    • Stage I squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus
    • Stage II squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus
    • Stage III squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus
    • Stage IV squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus
  • The following stages are used for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus:
    • Stage 0 (High-grade Dysplasia)
    • Stage I adenocarcinoma of the esophagus
    • Stage II adenocarcinoma of the esophagus
    • Stage III adenocarcinoma of the esophagus
    • Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

After esophageal cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the esophagus or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer cells have spread within the esophagus or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the body, usually through the mouth or rectum. For esophageal cancer, the endoscope is inserted through the mouth. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. A probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. This procedure is also called endosonography.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, such as the chest, abdomen, and pelvis, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do. A PET scan and CT scan may be done at the same time. This is called a PET-CT.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
  • Thoracoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the chest to check for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made between two ribs and a thoracoscope is inserted into the chest. A thoracoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue or lymph node samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. In some cases, this procedure may be used to remove part of the esophagus or lung.
  • Laparoscopy: A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the abdomen to check for signs of disease. Small incisions (cuts) are made in the wall of the abdomen and a laparoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into one of the incisions. Other instruments may be inserted through the same or other incisions to perform procedures such as removing organs or taking tissue samples to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor ( metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if esophageal cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually esophageal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic esophageal cancer, not lung cancer.

The grade of the tumor is also used to describe the cancer and plan treatment.

The grade of the tumor describes how abnormal the cancer cells look under a microscope and how quickly the tumor is likely to grow and spread. Grades 1 to 3 are used to describe esophageal cancer:

  • In grade 1, the cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2 and 3 cancer cells.
  • In grade 2, the cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 cancer cells.
  • In grade 3, the cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 and 2 cancer cells.

The following stages are used for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus:

Stage 0 (High-grade Dysplasia)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called high-grade dysplasia.

Stage I squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus

Stage I is divided into Stage IA and Stage IB, depending on where the cancer is found.

  • Stage IA: Cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2 and 3 cancer cells. Stage IA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus. Cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1 or the grade is unknown. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2-3 cancer cells.
  • Stage IB: Cancer has formed: in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2 and 3; orin the mucosa or submucosa layer and spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2 and 3 cancer cells.Stage IB squamous cell cancer of the esophagus. Cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall, and the cancer cells are grade 2-3; OR cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer and spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall, and the cancer cells are grade 1. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2-3 cancer cells. The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is.
    • in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2 and 3; or
    • in the mucosa or submucosa layer and spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is.

Stage II squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus

Stage II is divided into Stage IIA and Stage IIB, depending on where the cancer has spread.

  • Stage IIA: Cancer has spread: into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus; orStage IIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (1). The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus. Cancer has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2-3 cancer cells.into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2 and 3. The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is.Stage IIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (2). The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is. Cancer has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2-3. Grade 2-3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 cancer cells. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2 and 3 cancer cells.
    • into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus; orStage IIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (1). The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus. Cancer has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1. Grade 1 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 2-3 cancer cells.
    • into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2 and 3. The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is.Stage IIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (2). The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is. Cancer has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2-3. Grade 2-3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 cancer cells.
  • Stage IIB: Cancer: has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2 and 3. Grade 2 and 3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 cancer cells. The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus; or is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor. Stage IIB squamous cell cancer of the esophagus. The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus. Cancer has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall, and the cancer cells are grade 2-3; OR cancer is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor. Grade 2-3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 cancer cells.
    • has spread into the muscle layer or the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 2 and 3. Grade 2 and 3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 cancer cells. The tumor is in either the upper or middle esophagus; or
    • is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage III squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus

Stage III is divided into Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, and Stage IIIC, depending on where the cancer has spread.

  • Stage IIIA: Cancer: is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; orhas spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (1). Cancer is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; OR cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.has spread into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.Stage IIIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.
    • is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; or
    • has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (1). Cancer is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; OR cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • has spread into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.Stage IIIA squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.
  • Stage IIIB: Cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.Stage IIIB squamous cell cancer of the esophagus. Cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.
  • Stage IIIC: Cancer has spread: into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIC squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (1). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.into other nearby organs such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; orto 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.Stage IIIC squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into nearby organs, such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; OR cancer has spread to 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIC squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (1). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • into other nearby organs such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; or
    • to 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.Stage IIIC squamous cell cancer of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into nearby organs, such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; OR cancer has spread to 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage IV squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus

In Stage IV, cancer has spread to other parts of the body.Stage IV squamous cell cancer of the esophagus. Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

The following stages are used for adenocarcinoma of the esophagus:

Stage 0 (High-grade Dysplasia)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called high-grade dysplasia.

Stage I adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

Stage I is divided into Stage IA and Stage IB, depending on where the cancer is found.

  • Stage IA: Cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1 or 2. Grade 1 and 2 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 3 cancer cells.Stage IA adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1 or 2. Grade 1 and 2 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 3 cancer cells.
  • Stage IB: Cancer has formed: in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 3; orin the mucosa or submucosa layer and spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1 or 2.Grade 1 and 2 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 3 cancer cells.Stage IB adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall, and the cancer cells are grade 3. Grade 3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 or 2 cancer cells; OR cancer has formed in the mucosa or submucosa layer and spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and the cancer cells are grade 1 or 2. Grade 1 and 2 cancer cells look more like normal cells under a microscope and grow and spread more slowly than grade 3 cancer cells.
    • in the mucosa or submucosa layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 3; or
    • in the mucosa or submucosa layer and spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 1 or 2.

Stage II adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

Stage II is divided into Stage IIA and Stage IIB, depending on where the cancer has spread.

  • Stage IIA: Cancer has spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 3. Grade 3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 and 2 cancer cells.Stage IIA adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cancer has spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. The cancer cells are grade 3. Grade 3 cancer cells look more abnormal under a microscope and grow and spread more quickly than grade 1 or 2 cancer cells.
  • Stage IIB: Cancer: has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall; oris in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.Stage IIB adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall; OR cancer is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall; or
    • is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage III adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

Stage III is divided into Stage IIIA, Stage IIIB, and Stage IIIC, depending on where the cancer has spread.

  • Stage IIIA: Cancer: is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; or has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIA adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (1). Cancer is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; OR cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.has spread into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.Stage IIIA adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.
    • is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; or
    • has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIA adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (1). Cancer is in the mucosa or submucosa layer and may have spread into the muscle layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; OR cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall, and cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • has spread into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.Stage IIIA adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery.
  • Stage IIIB: Cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.Stage IIIB adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cancer has spread into the connective tissue layer of the esophagus wall. Cancer is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.
  • Stage IIIC: Cancer has spread: into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIC adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (1). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor. into other nearby organs such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; orto 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor. Stage IIIC adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into nearby organs, such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; OR cancer has spread to 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • into the diaphragm, pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or sac around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; orStage IIIC adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (1). Cancer has spread into the (a) diaphragm, (b) pleura (tissue that covers the lungs and lines the inner wall of the chest cavity), or (c) membrane (sac) around the heart. The cancer can be removed by surgery. Cancer is found in 1 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.
    • into other nearby organs such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; or
    • to 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor. Stage IIIC adenocarcinoma of the esophagus (2). Cancer has spread into nearby organs, such as the aorta, trachea, or spine, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery; OR cancer has spread to 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the esophagus

In Stage IV, cancer has spread to other parts of the body.Stage IV adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. Cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Recurrent Esophageal Cancer

Recurrent esophageal cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the esophagus or in other parts of the body.

Treatment Option Overview

Key Points for this Section

  • There are different types of treatment for patients with esophageal cancer.
  • Patients have special nutritional needs during treatment for esophageal cancer.
  • Six types of standard treatment are used:
    • Surgery
    • Radiation therapy
    • Chemotherapy
    • Chemoradiation therapy
    • Laser therapy
    • Electrocoagulation
  • New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
    • Targeted therapy
  • Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
  • Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
  • Follow-up tests may be needed.

There are different types of treatment for patients with esophageal cancer.

Different types of treatment are available for patients with esophageal cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Patients have special nutritional needs during treatment for esophageal cancer.

Many people with esophageal cancer find it hard to eat because they have trouble swallowing. The esophagus may be narrowed by the tumor or as a side effect of treatment. Some patients may receive nutrients directly into a vein. Others may need a feeding tube (a flexible plastic tube that is passed through the nose or mouth into the stomach) until they are able to eat on their own.

Six types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for cancer of the esophagus. Part of the esophagus may be removed in an operation called an esophagectomy. Esophagectomy. A portion of the esophagus is removed and the stomach is pulled up and joined to the remaining esophagus.The doctor will connect the remaining healthy part of the esophagus to the stomach so the patient can still swallow. A plastic tube or part of the intestine may be used to make the connection. Lymph nodes near the esophagus may also be removed and viewed under a microscope to see if they contain cancer. If the esophagus is partly blocked by the tumor, an expandable metal stent (tube) may be placed inside the esophagus to help keep it open.Esophageal stent. A device (stent) is placed in the esophagus to keep it open to allow food and liquids to pass through into the stomach.

Small, early-stage cancer and high-grade dysplasia of the esophagus may be removed by endoscopic resection. An endoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing) is inserted through a small incision (cut) in the skin or through an opening in the body, such as the mouth. A tool attached to the endoscope is used to remove tissue.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

A plastic tube may be inserted into the esophagus to keep it open during radiation therapy. This is called intraluminal intubation and dilation.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (