Esophageal Cancer (cont.)


Most people with esophageal cancer get chemotherapy. It may be used alone or with radiation therapy.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs for cancer of the esophagus are usually given directly into a vein (intravenously) through a thin needle.

You'll probably receive chemotherapy in a clinic or at the doctor's office. People rarely need to stay in the hospital during treatment.

The side effects depend mainly on the drugs given and amount of chemotherapy that you get. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

  • Blood cells: When drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your health care team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of the drug. They may also give you medicines that help your body to make new blood cells.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back after treatment, but the color and texture may be changed.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause a poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your health care team can give you medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems.

Other possible side effects include a skin rash, joint pain, tingling or numbness in your hands and feet, hearing problems, or swollen feet or legs.

When radiation therapy and chemotherapy are given at the same time, the side effects may be worse.

Your health care team can suggest ways to control many of these problems. Most go away when treatment ends.

Targeted Therapy

People with esophageal cancer that has spread may receive a type of treatment called targeted therapy. This treatment can block the growth and spread of esophageal cancer cells.

Targeted therapy for cancer of the esophagus is usually given intravenously. The treatment enters the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells all over the body.

During treatment, your health care team will watch you for side effects. You may get diarrhea, belly pain, heartburn, joint pain, tingling arms and legs, or heart problems. Most side effects usually go away after treatment ends.

Questions you may want to ask your doctor about chemotherapy or targeted therapy

  • Which drug or drugs do you suggest for me? What will they do?
  • What are the possible side effects? What can we do about them?
  • When will treatment start? When will it end? How often will I have treatments?
  • How will we know the treatment is working?
  • Will there be lasting side effects?

Patient Comments

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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?