Esophageal Cancer Treatment & Procedures

After esophageal cancer has been diagnosed, followup tests can find out if cancer cells have spread within the esophagus or to other parts of the body. This is called staging and is vital to guiding treatment choices. Some diagnostic tests may also be used during staging.

The following tests and procedures may be used by our doctors at Houston Methodist in the staging process, which will help determine the optimal treatment for you.

  • Bronchoscopy is a procedure that looks inside the throat and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas using a bronchoscope, which is similar to the endoscope used to examine the esophagus. 
  • CT (computed tomography) scan  uses a dye injected into a vein or swallowed to help visualize the interior of your body more clearly to X-rays.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scan uses a small amount of slightly radioactive glucose (blood sugar) injected into a vein to help locate malignant tumor cells in the body. 
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging ) is a procedure that uses a magnet and radio waves (rather than X-rays) to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (also called endosonography) is a probe at the end of an endoscope to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs. It makes echoes from the inside rather than from the outside of the body as in a normal sonogram. 
  • Thoracoscopy is a surgical procedure that looks at the organs inside the chest to check for abnormal areas. 
  • Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the abdomen and check for signs of disease. 

Patients require special nutritional needs during treatment for esophageal cancer. Some patients may receive nutrients directly into a vein (IV or parenteral nutrition). 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.

Treatment Options

Six types of standard treatment are used at Houston Methodist.

  • Surgery is the most common treatment for cancer of the esophagus. The tumor (and sometimes part of the esophagus) may be removed.
  • Radiation therapy is an external procedure using a machine to send radiation toward the cancer or an internal procedure, when the source of radiation is in sealed containers placed directly into or near the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy  treatment uses drugs, taken orally or intravenously by IV, to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Regional chemotherapy may place the chemotherapy drug directly into the area where the cancer is present. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
  • Chemoradiation therapy combines chemotherapy and radiation therapy to increase the effects of both.
  • Laser therapy is a cancer treatment that uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to kill cancer cells.
  • Electrocoagulation is the use of an electric current to kill cancer cells. 

The highly skilled thoracic surgeons at Houston Methodist perform complex procedures using minimally invasive methods. Advanced procedures such as minimally invasive esophagectomy, a laparoscopic procedure for esophageal cancer, allow patients to recover faster with better outcomes.

At Houston Methodist, multidisciplinary teams of expert doctors, nurses and other specially trained health care professionals work together to stage and treat cancer of the esophagus with leading-edge technology and research.

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