Esophageal Cancer

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Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is an effective treatment for esophageal cancer. If you’re having surgery, you may have radiation therapy either before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. If you’re not a candidate for surgery, radiation therapy can be used to control your disease. It’s also used as palliative care—to help with the effects of esophageal cancer, such as a blocked esophagus.

Types of Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation therapy uses a machine called a linear accelerator to deliver invisible beams of radiation to where the cancer is located. Conventional radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays. At our state-of-the-art radiation centers, we are able to do four-dimensional scans to help plan the radiation treatments. This type of planning allows us to visualize the tumors as they move with your breathing. We are also able to deliver the radiation treatments under image guidance so the radiation can be aimed precisely at the tumor on a daily basis. 

Chemoradiation, a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, is a common treatment for esophageal cancer. Chemotherapy drugs can make cancer cells more sensitive to radiation. This is an aggressive treatment, but our team has tremendous experience with caring for patients undergoing treatment. Our highly trained specialists are able to help patients complete their treatment with tolerable side effects. 

Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment and an alternative to standard X-ray radiation for many types of cancer and some non-cancerous tumors. Occasionally protons may be helpful for esophageal cancer, and your radiation oncologist will evaluate this option for you. Proton therapy is currently available on the Northwest Hospital & Medical Center campus and at only a handful of other centers in the United States. Learn more about proton therapy for esophageal cancer.

Where You Will Be Seen

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) patients may receive radiation therapy for esophageal cancer at the SCCA clinic on Lake Union, University of Washington Medical Center, or SCCA Radiation Oncology at Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. In March 2013, proton therapy will be available at SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center located on the campus of Northwest Hospital & Medical Center.

If your treatment involves radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist will determine the type, dosage, schedule, and location for your treatments. Learn more about radiation oncology.

Side Effects

People who receive radiation therapy feel fatigued and may experience skin reactions, upset stomach, pain with swallowing, and nausea.Some patients need a feeding tube placed into their stomach so they can receive adequate nutrition until the course of radiation is complete and side effects improve. Side effects tend to be worse towards the end of treatment, and they sometimes take a few weeks to resolve after treatment has completed.

Your treatment team will help you manage any side effects of radiation therapy as well. Our nutritionists and nurses can provide a great deal of information and support about managing side effects. You can also find general information about dealing with side effects in the symptom management section.