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Esophageal Cancer

  201-227-6008    |      cancer@holyname.org

Home  /   Cancer Care  /   Esophageal Cancer


The esophagus is a long hollow tube that runs from the throat to the stomach, helping move food for digestion. Cancer can occur anywhere along the length of the esophagus. Nearly 17,000 Americans are diagnosed with esophageal cancer each year.

Holy Name Medical Center's skilled oncologists have the expertise to assess, diagnose and treat each patient with the most appropriate medical care for the best possible outcome. Using advanced surgical techniques, medications and technology, they work with a team of specialists to combine superior treatment with personal care.


Esophageal cancer in the early stages typically does not cause any symptoms. As the disease progresses, patients may experience some of the following conditions:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chest pain, pressure or burning
  • Worsening indigestion or heartburn
  • Weight loss without effort
  • Coughing or hoarseness

Risk Factors

Chronic irritation of the esophagus may contribute to the changes that cause cancer. Factors that may trigger this irritation include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Being obese
  • Frequently drinking very hot liquids
  • Difficulty swallowing due to an esophageal sphincter that doesn't relax
  • Precancerous changes in the cells of the esophagus (Barrett's esophagus)
  • Bile reflux


To diagnose esophageal cancer, an endoscopy is performed. This procedure involves putting a flexible tube attached to a tiny camera down the throat and into the esophagus. The physician then examines the esophagus for irritation or cancer.

If a suspicious spot is found, the endoscope can be used to remove a tissue sample and examined for cancer cells.



Holy Name Medical Center's surgical oncologists are highly skilled at open and minimally invasive procedures, with the expertise to determine which protocol is best for each patient. They consider the size of the tumor, the type and stage of the disease and the general health of the patient before creating a treatment plan. Surgery may be combined with other treatments.

For patients with a very small tumor that hasn't spread and is confined to the top layers of the esophagus, a minimally invasive procedure can typically be done to remove the tumor. An endoscope is passed down the throat to remove the cancer cells.

If the cancer is more advanced, an esophagectomy is performed. This procedure involves removing the section of the esophagus that contains the tumor along with a portion of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes. The remaining section of the stomach is stretched up to the esophagus and attached. In patients where the stomach cannot be used, a portion of the colon may be used to help join the two.


Radiation therapy, high-energy - X-rays, gamma rays or charged particles - are typically used in combination with other treatments for esophageal cancer. It is given most often before surgery but in some cases, may be used after a surgical procedure. Radiation treatment can last from two to six weeks and is frequently combined with chemotherapy.


Chemotherapy is a medical treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is frequently given before surgery but may be administered later for esophageal cancer. It is often combined with radiation therapy. If the cancer is very advanced, it is sometimes used alone to diminish the symptoms caused by the disease.