Trying Other Treatments for Esophageal Cancer
Considering something outside of standard esophageal cancer treatment? Learn more about some of these cancer treatment options.
By Diana Rodriguez
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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Treatment options for esophageal cancer are typically pretty standard recommendations. They include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy, along with such complementary therapies as acupuncture, massage, and meditation to alleviate symptoms.
There are also several new therapies that are not yet commonly used, but may be options for many esophageal cancer patients.
Esophageal Cancer: Other Cancer Treatment Options
Some treatments are meant to help cure esophageal cancer; others only offer symptom relief and improved quality of life for esophageal cancer patients whose disease cannot be treated. Not every treatment will be successful, so here are some other cancer treatment options to consider outside of the most conventional methods of treating esophageal cancer:
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT).Photodynamic therapy involves injecting a dose of medication that makes the patient sensitive to light. This drug quickly passes through healthy cells and lasts longer in cancerous ones. A laser is pointed at the esophagus to encourage production of an oxygen that kills cancer cells and leaves healthy cells unaffected. Most commonly, PDT is used to alleviate symptoms by reducing the size of the tumor. Researchers are currently studying whether PDT may be an effective treatment in the earliest stages of esophageal cancer.
- Electrocoagulation (electrocautery).In this procedure, the tumor is removed using an electric current. The tumor is cauterized (essentially burned off) with electricity. This procedure is usually done to relieve symptoms by removing the obstruction in the esophagus, not necessarily to cure esophageal cancer.
- Laser therapy.This procedure does not require an incision, and is therefore a good alternative to surgery for many patients. A laser is used to destroy the tumor in the esophagus and to relieve symptoms. Although effective in managing symptoms, laser therapy needs to be done regularly, typically about every six to eight weeks.
- Radiofrequency ablation.In this procedure, a needle is placed directly into the tumor in the esophagus, using a CT or ultrasound as a guide. The needle is heated with electricity, which then kills the tumor with the heat. This is a good treatment method for people who cannot undergo surgery, or if surgery has not been successful.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR).This procedure is usually performed on smaller tumors and is often used by Barrett's esophagus patients. In an endoscopic mucosal resection, the tumor is injected with a chemical to help reduce bleeding, and to form a layer beneath the tumor to protect the esophagus. Next, a device with a cap and a tiny loop of wire are placed onto an endoscope, which goes down the esophagus and pulls the tumor away from the esophagus. The wire cuts out the tumor and seals the area with heat, and removes the tumor for examination.
- Argon plasma coagulation.This procedure is used to control bleeding of the esophageal tumor. It uses a combination of electric current and argon gas to encourage the blood to coagulate and the bleeding to stop.
- Stenting and dilation.To keep esophageal cancer patients who cannot be cured as comfortable as possible, some treatment methods can be used to make swallowing easier. A thin tube made of metal mesh called a stent can be inserted in the esophagus to prevent it from being blocked and to allow food and liquid to pass through more easily. The tumor can also be dilated using a cylinder-shaped object, which makes swallowing easier.
Esophageal Cancer: Finding the Right Cancer Treatment
An important element to consider in figuring out which types of cancer treatment to pursue is the overall goal of your treatment: to cure your esophageal cancer or to make you as comfortable as possible.
Video: Treatments for Barrett's Esophagus, Dysplasia, Esophagus Cancer (adenocarcinoma) - Mayo Clinic
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