Chemotherapy for oesophageal cancer
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. The aim is to destroy cancer cells, while causing the least possible damage to healthy cells. Chemotherapy for oesophageal cancer may be given alone or combined with radiation therapy.
Learn more about:
For oesophageal cancer, chemotherapy is commonly given before surgery to shrink large tumours and destroy any cancer cells that may have spread. It may be used after surgery to reduce the chance of the disease coming back. Chemotherapy is also used on its own for people unable to have surgery.
Chemotherapy is usually given as a liquid through a drip inserted into a vein in the arm. It may also be given through a tube implanted into a vein (called a port, catheter or vascular access device), or as tablets you swallow. You will usually receive treatment as an outpatient.
Most people receive a combination of drugs in repeating rounds of treatment for several months. These may be given on one day, or continuously using a small pump that is linked to the implanted tube. There may be a rest period of a few weeks between each round. Your doctor will talk to you about how long your treatment will last.
For more on this, see Chemotherapy.
The side effects of chemotherapy vary greatly, depending on the drugs you receive, how often you have treatment, and your general fitness and health. Most side effects are temporary. Your treatment team can help you prevent or manage any side effects.
Side effects may include nausea and/or vomiting, sore mouth or mouth ulcers, appetite changes and difficulty swallowing, skin and nail changes, numbness or tingling in the hands or feet, ringing in the ears or hearing loss, changed bowel habits (e.g. constipation, diarrhoea), and hair loss or thinning. You may also be more likely to catch infections. If you feel unwell or have a temperature higher than 38°C, seek urgent medical attention.
Video: What is chemotherapy?
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Looking for transport, accommodation or home help?
Practical advice and support during and after treatment
Talk to someone who has experienced cancer
Work and cancer
Information for employees, employers and workplaces dealing with cancer