Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal Cancer Treatments

Appointment New Patient Appointment or 214-645-8300

Treatment for esophageal cancer depends on its location, size, and stage; the patient’s overall health, goals, and preferences; and other factors. 

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, the specialists at the Harold C. Simmons Cancer Center work together and with each patient to decide on an individualized treatment to meet each patient’s needs. 

Medical Treatment

Chemotherapy is the most common medical treatment for esophageal cancer. It uses powerful medications, taken by mouth or intravenously, to target and destroy the cancer cells. 

For esophageal cancer, chemotherapy is often used along with radiation therapy (chemoradiation), particularly before surgery. This combination strategy can lower the chance of esophageal cancer returning. 

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells and keep them from growing. 

Our physicians primarily use two types of radiation therapy to treat esophageal cancer:

  • External radiation therapy: Uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancerous tumor
  • Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy): Involves the insertion of an endoscopic tube into the throat to position radioactive material close to the cancer 

Depending on the stage, size, and location of esophageal cancer, UT Southwestern specialists might suggest either of these two types of radiation therapies in conjunction with chemotherapy (chemoradiation). This combination might be used to treat the cancer before, after, or instead of surgery.

Radiation therapy also might be recommended to help with swallowing problems associated with esophageal cancer. 

Surgery

For early-stage esophageal cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the esophagus and nearby lymph nodes, surgery is often the first course of action. 

Our highly regarded thoracic surgeons can perform open surgery or advanced, minimally invasive surgery – such as robotic esophagectomy – that can successfully treat esophageal cancer. In an esophagectomy, the surgeon removes the cancer and part, or all, of the esophagus. 

Patients have the option of a robotic-assisted esophagectomy. UT Southwestern thoracic surgeon Kemp Kernstine, M.D., Ph.D., is a pioneer of this sophisticated, minimally invasive surgery and uses it to treat many patients with esophageal cancer. 

With robotic esophagectomy, the surgeon inserts a laparoscope through small incisions to see the affected area very clearly and in great detail. This technique enables very precise access to the esophagus and cancerous tumor. 

Benefits of robotic surgery include:

  • Smaller incisions
  • Less postoperative pain and scarring
  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced risk of infection
  • Quicker return to mobility and normal activity 

UT Southwestern is credited with performing several first robotic chest procedures and techniques, including the world’s first published robotic oncologic esophagectomy. Since that first surgery, we have become one of the highest-volume robotic thoracic surgery centers in the country.