How are the symptoms of esophageal cancer treated?

If surgery is not possible, there are ways to help to relieve difficulties in swallowing. Endoscopic intubation is usually done under sedation or anesthesia in the endoscopy department. A tube is inserted to hold the walls of the esophagus open so that food and fluid can be swallowed easily. These tubes may be made of plastic or of springy metal coils.

The tubes can become blocked by large food particles so patients must adhere to special instructions on their diet. Some patients are bothered by heartburn and regurgitation. This can be helped by taking acid suppressants. Endoscopic laser treatment is also possible. An endoscopic specialist will use a laser to destroy any tumor that is growing into the gullet. In some patients, laser treatment and intubation need to be combined.

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What is Barrett’s Esophagus?

  • In Barrett’s esophagus, the tissue lining the esophagus is replaced by tissue that is similar to the lining of the intestine.
  • Barrett’s esophagus is associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Improvement in GERD symptoms with acid-reducing drugs may decrease the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus.
  • Barrett’s esophagus is diagnosed through an upper-gastrointestinal endoscopy and biopsies.
  • People who have Barrett’s esophagus should have periodic surveillance endoscopies and biopsies.
  • Endoscopic treatments are used to destroy Barrett’s tissue, which will hopefully be replaced with normal esophageal tissue.

Removal of most of the esophagus is recommended if a person with Barrett’s esophagus is found to have severe dysplasia or cancer and can tolerate a surgical procedure.

Further information

American Gastroenterological Association

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

National Cancer Institute

Last reviewed: April 2011