How is esophageal cancer treated?

Dr. Ivana Dzeletovic is a gastroenterologist specializing in endoscopy at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center in Gilbert.

Question: How is esophageal cancer treated?

Answer: Treatment options for esophageal cancer depend on the type of cells of origin, stage of the cancer, and a patient’s overall health. There are two types of cancer based on the cells of origin that are involved. Adenocarcinoma is seen more often in the U.S., and squamous cell carcinoma is more common in the rest of the world. Staging of cancer is the way a doctor determines if the cancer has spread beyond the tissue layer where it began and how far.

The main options for treatment of esophageal cancer include minimally invasive endoscopic therapy, surgery, targeted radiation and chemotherapy. Depending on the stage of the cancer and the patient’s general health, different treatment options can be used alone or in combination.

For early stage esophageal cancer, two major treatments are available: minimally invasive endoscopic resection (removal of cancer from the lining of the esophagus through an endoscope) and surgical esophagectomy (removal of a part of the esophagus). Endoscopic resection can cure very early stage esophageal cancer and is performed only in highly specialized cancer centers.

Cancers that have grown into the main muscle layer of the esophagus or have grown through the wall of the esophagus to other areas of the body are more commonly treated first with chemotherapy and radiation to reduce the size of the tumor, followed by surgical esophagectomy. This treatment approach is best for patients with no other major medical problems.

However, because every patient and every cancer is different, a cancer care team will consider all available options and the health of the patient to develop a customized treatment plan suited for that individual.