Sarah Cannon - March 28, 2022

Take a moment to learn more about esophageal cancer, including how it is diagnosed as well as your treatment options.

What is esophageal cancer?

There are two types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.

  • Squamous cells line the inner layer of the esophagus, and are most commonly located in the upper portion of the esophagus. When these cells develop cancer, it is called squamous cell carcinoma.
  • Adenocarcinoma occurs in gland cells of the esophagus. This is most common in the lower part of your esophagus, near the stomach.

How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?

Because there are few signs and symptoms associated with esophageal cancer, it often is not detected until later stages. If esophageal cancer is suspected, your doctor may conduct one or more of the following tests: a barium swallow, CT scan, MRI, PET scan, upper endoscopy/EGD, biopsy, or an endoscopic ultrasound. To learn more about each of these diagnostic tests, visit Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis on Sarah Cannon’s website.

Treatment options for esophageal cancer

Patients who have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer have a variety of treatment options available to them in their cancer journey. The type of treatment chosen will depend on the type and stage of the cancer. Common treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and esophagectomy.


Chemotherapy is a treatment option that administers drugs, either orally or by injection, which attack rapidly dividing cell, including cancer cells. This treatment shrinks the size of tumors and helps reduce the risk of the cancer returning. It is most effective when combined with radiation therapy or surgery.

Radiation therapy

Before surgery, radiation may be used to shrink tumors, making the cancer easier to remove. After surgery, radiation therapy is used to destroy any cancer cells that may have been left behind. Radiation is often combined with surgery or chemotherapy.

There are two ways that radiation therapy can be administered:

  • External radiation targets the cancer from the outside of the body by angling radiation beams directly to the cancer cells.
  • Internal radiation, or brachytherapy, is performed by placing an endoscope down the throat and placing radiation close to the cancer. Brachytherapy is often used with advanced esophageal cancers to shrink tumors so that swallowing is easier.


Surgery to remove cancer of the esophagus, or esophagectomy, is most often used when the cancer is found in its early stages. Doctors are able to remove affected parts of the esophagus, then reattach the healthy portion to the stomach directly. How much of the esophagus is removed depends upon the stage of the tumor and where it is located at in the esophagus.

Other treatment options

In addition to the three main types of treatment for esophageal cancer above, other treatment options for esophageal cancer include: chemoradiation, targeted therapies, immunotherapies, endoscopic mucosal resection, PDT (photodynamic therapy), radiofrequency ablation (RFA), laser ablation, electrocoagulation, and esophageal stent. Also, speak with your doctor about clinical trial options that may be available to you.

For more information on esophageal cancer, visit What is Esophageal Cancer? on the Sarah Cannon website. If you have questions about esophageal cancer, call askSARAH at (844) 482-4812 to speak to a nurse who is specially trained to help with your cancer questions or visit askSARAH online.