Esophageal Cancer (cont.)

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is an option for people with any stage of esophageal cancer. The treatment affects cells only in the area being treated, such as the throat and chest area.

Radiation therapy may be given before, after, or instead of surgery. Chemotherapy is usually given along with radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy for esophageal cancer may be given to...

  • Destroy the cancer
  • Help shrink the tumor so that you can swallow more easily
  • Help relieve pain from cancer that has spread to bone or other tissues

Doctors use two types of radiation therapy to treat esophageal cancer. Some people receive both types:

  • Machine outside the body: The radiation comes from a large machine. This is called external radiation therapy. The machine aims radiation at your body to kill cancer cells. It doesn't hurt. You'll go to a hospital or clinic, and you'll lie down on a treatment table. Each treatment session usually lasts less than 20 minutes. Treatments are usually given 5 days a week for several weeks.
  • Radioactive material inside the body (brachytherapy): The doctor numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray and gives you medicine to help you relax. The doctor puts a tube into your esophagus. The radiation comes from the tube. After the tube is removed, no radioactivity is left in your body. Usually, one treatment session is needed. Because the treatment session lasts one to two days, you'll probably stay in a special room at the hospital.

The side effects of radiation therapy depend mainly on the type of radiation therapy, how much radiation is given, and the part of your body that is treated.

External radiation therapy aimed at the chest may cause a sore throat, cough, or shortness of breath. You may feel a lump in your throat or burning in your chest or throat when you swallow. After several weeks of treatment, it may be painful to swallow. Your health care team can suggest ways to manage these problems. The problems usually go away when treatment ends.

External radiation therapy can harm the skin. It's common for the skin in the chest area to become red and dry and to get darker. Sometimes the skin may feel tender or itchy. Check with your doctor before using lotion or cream on your chest. After treatment is over, the skin will heal.

You're likely to become tired during external radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Although getting enough rest is important, most people say they feel better when they exercise every day. Try to go for a short walk, do gentle stretches, or do yoga.

Years after either type of radiation therapy, the esophagus may become narrow. If this happens, it may feel like food is getting stuck in your chest. Usually, a gastroenterologist can treat this problem.

Questions you may want to ask your doctor about radiation therapy

  • When will treatment start? When will it end? How often will I have treatments?
  • How will I feel during treatment? Will I be able to drive myself to and from treatment?
  • What can I do to take care of myself before, during, and after treatment?
  • How will we know the treatment is working?
  • What side effects should I expect? What should I tell you about?
  • Are there any lasting effects?

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Esophageal Cancer - Symptoms and Signs Question: What were the symptoms and signs you experienced with esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Prognosis and Stage Question: What is your esophageal cancer prognosis? What stage is your esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Types Question: Do you or someone you know have adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus? Please share your story.
Esophageal Cancer - Risk Factors Question: Do you have any of the risk factors for esophageal cancer? What are they, and what are your concerns?
Esophageal Cancer - Diagnosis Question: What kinds of tests and exams led to a diagnosis of esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, including radiation or chemotherapy, did you receive for esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Surgery Question: Please describe the surgical experience you or someone you know had for esophageal cancer.
Esophageal Cancer - Second Opinion Question: How did you go about getting a second opinion for your esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Follow-Up Care Question: What type of follow-up care did you receive for your esophageal cancer?