Esophageal Cancer (cont.)

Chemotherapy

Most people with esophageal cancer get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs for esophageal cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). You may have your treatment in a clinic, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital for treatment.

Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles. Each cycle has a treatment period followed by a rest period.

The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drug can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

  • Blood cells: When chemotherapy lowers 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 drug. There also are medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
  • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back, but it may change in color and texture fo a while.
  • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause 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. Your healthcare team can suggest ways to control many of these problems. Most go away when treatment ends.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having chemotherapy:

  • Which drugs will I get?
  • When will treatment start? When will it end? How often will I have treatments?
  • Where will I go for treatment? Will I have to stay in the hospital?
  • What can I do to take care of myself during treatment?
  • How will we know the treatment is working?
  • Will I have side effects during treatment? What side effects should I tell you about? Can I prevent or treat any of these side effects?
  • Can these drugs cause side effects later on?
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/14/2014

Patient Comments

Viewers share their comments

Esophageal Cancer - Symptoms and Signs Question: What were the symptoms and signs you experienced with esophageal cancer?
Esophageal Cancer - Prognosis Question: What is your esophageal cancer prognosis?
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?

STAY INFORMED

Get the Latest health and medical information delivered direct to your inbox!