Esophageal Cancer

Rush experts listen to your concerns about swallowing and nutrition to design a personalized plan for your esophageal cancer to restore your quality of life.

Rush experts listen to your concerns about swallowing and nutrition to design a personalized plan for your esophageal cancer to restore your quality of life.

Rush experts listen to your concerns about swallowing and nutrition to design a personalized plan for your esophageal cancer to restore your quality of life.

Cancer of the esophagus — the food pipe that runs between the throat and the stomach — is rare. There are two main kinds of esophageal cancer:

  • Adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is the most common type of esophageal cancer in the U.S. It can be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and/or Barrett's esophagus. It usually develops at the bottom of the esophagus, where stomach fluids leak back up in people with these conditions.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops at the top of the esophagus. It can result from smoking or heavy drinking.

Risk Factors for Esophageal Cancer

If you have these risk factors, talk to your primary care doctor about getting regular screening tests for esophageal cancer:

Esophageal Cancer Symptoms

Esophageal cancer can be hard to detect because there often aren't any signs in its early stages. But it may cause some of the following symptoms, especially in its later stages. Talk to your doctor if you have experienced the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing or food getting caught
  • Hoarseness
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion

Esophageal Cancer Treatment at Rush

If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, your care at Rush will likely involve one or more of the following:

  • Surgery: Surgeons at Rush can remove your whole esophagus or just the part of it affected by the cancer. This type of surgery is called an esophagectomy. If the cancer is in the lower part of the esophagus, your surgeon may also need to remove part of your stomach. When possible, surgeons at Rush use laparoscopic techniques, which involve smaller incisions that can lead to less pain and faster recovery times.
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR): Doctors at Rush use endoscopic mucosal resection to remove early-stage cancers or precancerous tissues if you have Barrett's esophagus, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, carcinoid tumors and colon polyps. Doctors may also use EMR to take tissue samples to examine for diagnostic purposes.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: Endoscopic ultrasound is an imaging procedure that doctors use to find and evaluate cancers and other conditions of the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and digestive tract.
  • Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS): Video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) is a minimally invasive surgical procedure used to diagnose and treat illness, like esophageal cancer or injury to organs in the chest.
  • Chemotherapy: Doctors at Rush offer the latest cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs, used alone or in combination with other treatments.
  • Radiation therapy: Doctors at Rush use advanced technologies that target the cancer with high doses of radiation while protecting surrounding healthy tissue.
  • Immunotherapy: Rush offers the most advanced immunotherapies, which help your body fight cancer.
  • Targeted therapy: A treatment option that identifies and attacks cancer cells without harming healthy cells.
  • Complementary therapies: The supportive oncology program offers massage, yoga, biofeedback and other therapies to help you cope with pain, loss of energy and other challenges related to your cancer.
  • Nutrition counseling: With esophageal cancer, you will have special nutritional needs during and after treatment. Our nutritionist will work closely with you to help you with these challenges and make sure you get the nutrients you need.

Rush Excellence in Esophageal Cancer Care

  • Nationally ranked experts focused on you: Rush University Medical Center is ranked among the best in the nation for cancer, gastroenterology and GI surgery and ENT care by U.S. News & World Report. Specialists in all of these areas will work with you and each other to create a personalized treatment plan for you.
  • Personalized care coordination: Your cancer care team — which may include medical oncologists, gastroenterologists, surgical oncologists, thoracic surgeons, head and neck surgeons, interventional radiologists, genetic counselors, dietitians, social work, supportive oncology and others. In many cases, they will meet with you in a single visit to discuss your diagnosis and treatment options. At the end of this meeting, you will have a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your specific diagnosis and needs. Your team will then help guide you through your entire continuum of care, including helping to coordinate tests, treatments and appointments and addressing any concerns you may have along the way.
  • Minimally invasive options: Whenever possible, our surgeons perform procedures using small incisions, such as video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATS) to diagnose and treat esophageal cancer. With minimally invasive approaches, you will have less pain, fewer complications and a shorter recovery time.

Get a Second Opinion

A second opinion can confirm your diagnosis and point to new treatment options.

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Clinical Trials for Esophageal and Other GI Cancers

Researchers at Rush are investigating new esophageal and other GI cancer treatments.

See open clinical trials
See open clinical trials