Esophageal Cancer - Surgery

Please describe the surgical experience you or someone you know had for esophageal cancer.

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Surgery

There are several types of surgery for esophageal cancer. The type depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole esophagus or only the part that has the cancer. Usually, the surgeon removes the section of the esophagus with the cancer, lymph nodes, and nearby soft tissues. Part or all of the stomach may also be removed. You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you.

The surgeon makes incisions into your chest and abdomen to remove the cancer. In most cases, the surgeon pulls up the stomach and joins it to the remaining part of the esophagus. Or a piece of intestine may be used to connect the stomach to the remaining part of the esophagus. The surgeon may use either a piece of small intestine or large intestine. If the stomach was removed, a piece of intestine is used to join the remaining part of the esophagus to the small intestine.

During surgery, the surgeon may place a feeding tube into your small intestine. This tube helps you get enough nutrition while you heal. Information about eating after surgery is in the Nutrition section.

You may have pain for the first few days after surgery. However, medicine will help control the pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your health care team. After surgery, your team can adjust the plan if you need more relief.

Your health care team will watch for signs of food leaking from the newly joined parts of your digestive tract. They will also watch for pneumonia or other infections, breathing problems, bleeding, or other problems that may require treatment.

The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for everyone and depends on the type of surgery. You may be in the hospital for at least one week.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions about surgery:

  • Do you suggest surgery for me? If so, which type?
  • Will you remove lymph nodes and other tissue? Will you remove part or all of the stomach? Why?
  • What are the risks of surgery?
  • How will I feel after surgery?
  • How will pain be controlled after surgery?
  • How long will I be in the hospital?
  • Am I likely to have eating problems? Will I need a special diet?
  • Will I need a feeding tube? If so, for how long? How do I take care of it? Who can help me if I have a problem?
  • Will I have any lasting side effects?
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