Radiation therapy is an important part of treatment for all stages of esophageal cancer. It is usually combined with chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy involves using radiation to destroy cancer cells. It’s often combined with other treatments like chemotherapy or surgery.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy administered together before surgery is the
Read on to learn more about how radiation therapy treats esophageal cancer.
Two types of radiation therapy are used to treat esophageal cancer.
External beam therapy
External beam therapy is the main type of radiation therapy used to treat esophageal cancer. It involves directing radiation from an external machine at your cancer to destroy cells.
Doctors are investigating a new type of radiation therapy for treating esophageal cancer called proton therapy. There’s
Internal radiation therapy
Internal radiation, also called brachytherapy, involves inserting a tube down your throat to place a radioactive substance near your cancer. It’s not commonly used to treat esophageal cancer but may help ease trouble swallowing.
Doctors administer two types of internal radiation therapy:
- High dose brachytherapy: The radioactive material is left in your throat near the cancer for a
- Low dose brachytherapy: A material with less radioactivity is placed near the cancer for 1–2 days. You’ll need to stay in the hospital during treatment.
Radiation therapy can increase the chances that doctors can cure your cancer if the radiation is combined with other treatments like chemotherapy or surgery.
Doctors use radiation therapy:
- combined with chemotherapy to treat people who can’t receive surgery
- with chemotherapy to shrink a tumor before surgery
- after surgery with chemotherapy to kill cancer cells that might have been missed
- to reduce symptoms of advanced esophageal cancer
Radiation therapy can damage healthy cells and cause many side effects. You can weigh the pros and cons of these with your care team.
You may experience:
- skin irritation
- loss of appetite
- painful sores in your mouth
- dry mouth
- thick saliva
- heart injury
- radiation esophagitis, which might cause:
- painful swallowing
- obstruction when eating
- burning or pain behind your breastbone
- radiation pneumonia, which may cause:
Side effects are
Esophageal cancer is most likely to be cured if it’s caught in the early stages. Radiation therapy can potentially help maximize your chances of survival.
Here’s what to expect before, during, and after external beam radiation therapy:
Before the procedure
Before you start radiation therapy, you’ll have an initial appointment where your doctor pinpoints the spot the radiation therapy needs to be directed. You’ll likely have imaging tests taken during this period, such as a computed tomography (CT) scan.
You may have a semi-permanent ink or tattoo placed on your skin to guide your therapy. These marks may be made on a plastic mask that you wear during your treatment.
During the procedure
Receiving external beam radiation therapy is similar to getting an X-ray, but each session takes longer.
Your radiation therapist will help you get into the proper position and place shields in certain areas. They will then leave the room and turn on the machine. You shouldn’t feel any pain during the procedure and can continue communicating with your therapist through an intercom.
After the procedure
You can usually go home immediately after receiving external beam radiation therapy. You may have to stay in the hospital for a few days if you receive low dose brachytherapy, though this is not common for this type of cancer.
Radiation therapy is an important part of treatment for esophageal cancer. Most people who are in good enough health to receive radiation therapy are a candidate.
Who should avoid it?
People who may be
- poor general health
- poor heart or lung function
- massive esophageal bleeding
- an esophageal fistula
People who are pregnant are also ineligible.
Other standard treatments for radiation therapy include:
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about radiation therapy for esophageal cancer.
What is the long-term survival after radiation therapy for esophageal cancer?
How many radiation treatments are needed to treat esophageal cancer?
The standard radiation dosage for trying to cure esophageal cancer is 50.4 gray (gy) administered over 28 treatments combined with chemotherapy. Most people who receive radiation therapy have it 5 days per week.
How long does radiation treatment for esophageal cancer take?
Each session of external radiation typically lasts about
Radiation therapy is an important treatment for all stages of esophageal cancer. It’s often combined with surgery and chemotherapy to try to cure the cancer.
Radiation therapy may be administered alone with chemotherapy if surgery isn’t an option or to reduce symptoms of esophageal cancer considered incurable.