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Radiation therapy uses high energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. Special tools and dosing will help to kill as much of the cancer as possible while minimizing the effect on nearby healthy tissue. A radiation oncologist will customize the treatment dose for individual needs.
For esophageal cancer, radiation therapy is most often used in combination with chemotherapy (called chemoradiation). The combination of chemotherapy and radiation is more effective in shrinking the esophageal tumor and extending life than either treatment alone.
Radiation therapy may also be given:
Types of radiation therapy used for esophageal cancer:
In external beam radiation therapy, a machine directs high-energy rays through the body and into the tumor. There are many different radiation machines used for external radiation therapy based on the size of the tumor, surrounding tissue, and type of cancer. The radiation oncologist will discuss options, doses, and frequency of radiation so that the highest amount of radiation can be delivered to the cancer with as little impact on healthy tissue as possible.
The therapy is often delivered in a number of doses over a few weeks on an outpatient basis.
This is also called internal radiation therapy. Radioactive material in a specialized container is placed near the tumor. This allows a higher dose of radiation to be delivered directly to the tumor. It is generally used to treat tumors that are obstructing the esophagus. The material is placed during an endoscopy, a procedure that threads a lighted tube into the mouth and down the throat to the tumor site. Brachytherapy may be:
Complications of radiation therapy to the chest and abdominal areas may include:
A variety of treatments are available to help manage side effects of radiation therapy, such as dry, irritated skin, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue due to anemia. Sometimes adjustments to treatment doses may also be possible. The earlier side effects are addressed, the more likely they will be controlled with a minimum of discomfort.
Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancer. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 10, 2015. Accessed December 17, 2015.
Esophageal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/esophageal-cancer. Updated July 2014. Accessed December 17, 2015.
Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003098-pdf.pdf. Accessed December 17, 2015.
Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/patient/esophageal-treatment-pdq#section/_159. Updated December 17, 2015. Accessed December 17, 2015.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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