Types of treatment for oesophagus cancer
The treatment you receive for oesophagus cancer will depend on the type of cancer, the stage it has reached and its location. It will also be influenced by your general health, your age and your own personal preferences.
If your oesophagus cancer is identified in its early stages, then the focus will be on surgery to cure your condition. However, if it is more advanced then the treatment will be aimed more at preventing further growth, and if possible, shrinking the tumor. In the most advanced stages of oesophagus cancer, any treatment will be simply focussed on making you feel more comfortable, controlling your pain and improving your quality of life where possible.
Surgery for oesophagus cancer
There are two types of oesophagus cancer surgery:
Oesophagectomy – this is performed when the cancer has not spread beyond the oesophagus. The section of the oesophagus that contains the cancer is removed and the remaining tube is reconnected to the stomach.
Oesophagogastrectomy – this is performed where the oesophagus cancer has spread to the surrounding tissues, and involved the removal of all the affected areas. This may include the lymph nodes and the top of the stomach. The remaining oesophagus is reconnected using a length of the large intestine.
Patients in good health with small tumours have a 25% chance of being cured by surgery. Often oesophagus cancer surgery is complemented by chemotherapy or radiotherapy, either before the surgery to shrink the tumour, or post surgery to prevent re-growth.
Chemotherapy and radiotherapy for oesophagus cancer
Some studies show that a combination of the chemotherapy and radiotherapy alone can be as successful as surgery in treating oesophagus cancer. Even with more advanced cases, the cure rate can be as high as 20%.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer chemicals to kill the cancer cells or stop them multiplying further. Unfortunately, many of the drugs used will also affect other tissues in the body, causing hair loss, nausea and vomiting, mouth sores and general fatigue. Although these side effects are only short term, they can make oesophagus cancer treatment a gruelling process. You will probably be offered other drugs to counteract the worst effects of the chemotherapy – such as anti-nausea medications – and these will help you to feel more comfortable.
Radiotherapy uses high energy radiation to destroy the oesophagus cancer cells. This can either be introduced from outside the body to the general area of the tumour, or from inside, giving a more targeted dose directly to the affected tissues. As with chemotherapy, the side effects can be quite traumatic, including fatigue, skin reactions, nausea and appetite loss.
Often chemotherapy and radiotherapy are used together, with frequent radiotherapy for a number of weeks.