Esophagus Cancer

Esophagus cancer occurs when the cells inside the esophagus are damaged. Risk factors for esophageal cancer include:

In order to reduce your risk for esophageal cancer, you should avoid smoking, reduce your alcohol consumption and eat a healthy diet. In the past, esophageal cancer was largely caused by smoking and alcohol. The leading factor today is acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux causes four times as many cases of esophageal cancer as smoking and alcohol. It is essential that you work with your primary care physician or a gastroenterologist to control GERD.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Feeling like food gets stuck in your throat
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Coughing or hoarseness

If you experience these symptoms, you should speak to your primary care physician. By diagnosing cancer as early as possible, you have more treatment options.

The highly skilled physicians at the Indiana University Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center use the latest techniques to diagnose and treat esophageal cancer. From minimally invasive surgical procedures to clinical trials, we provide advanced, individualized treatments to fit your needs. 

Esophagus Cancer Treatment

At the IU Health Melvin & Bren Simon Cancer Center, we offer comprehensive treatments so you can receive all the care you need in one location. You will receive multidisciplinary care from a team of expert healthcare professionals, including:

  • Surgical oncologists
  • Medical oncologists
  • Radiation oncologists
  • Gastroenterologists
  • Dietitians
  • Speech language pathologists
  • Radiologists
  • Pathologists
  • Social workers
  • Chaplains

Your cancer care team works with you to develop a personalized treatment plan so you receive the treatment and support you need in your fight against esophageal cancer.

Because esophageal cancer is less common, you should seek care from specialized cancer centers—like the IU Health Simon Cancer Center—that have physicians who are experienced in esophageal cancer treatment. Depending on your care plan, your treatments may include one or more of the following options:

  • Surgery. The most common treatment for esophageal cancer is esophagectomy, a delicate and complicated procedure in which most of the esophagus is removed and the stomach is connected higher up along the tube. Experienced surgeons at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center perform a large number of esophagectomies each year. Patients from across Indiana and the Midwest come to Indiana University Health for these procedures. Our expert physicians have written several peer-reviewed publications about the procedure, helping other physicians to better understand the benefits and techniques of the procedure. We also offer other options for patients who cannot undergo esophagectomies. Our gastroenterologists are among the most experienced physicians in the world at performing endoscopic mucosal resections. During this minimally invasive procedure, only small sections of the mucosal layers of the esophagus affected by cancer are removed while leaving the rest of the esophagus intact.
  • Chemotherapy. You may receive chemotherapy before or after surgery. Chemotherapy uses specialized medicine to kill cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses precise beams of energy to destroy cancer cells, while affecting as few healthy cells as possible.
  • Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a new treatment technique that uses your body's immune system to fight cancer. Clinical trials at the IU Health Simon Cancer Center are testing novel immunotherapy agents in patients undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer. 
  • Clinical trials. At the IU Health Simon Cancer Center, we give you the latest treatment options through clinical trials. Clinical trials most often involve medicines that assist in cancer treatment. Researchers at IU Health Simon Cancer Center, in collaboration with researchers at Purdue University, are also testing new imaging techniques to determine the effectiveness of treatment.

We provide additional support services, such as psychosocial support and palliative care, to help you and your family through the difficulties of cancer treatment. After treatment, we can connect you with an IU Health speech-language pathologist who can help you regain your ability to swallow and an IU Health dietitian who can help you make dietary choices that reduce your risk for future acid reflux. We strive to improve your quality of life through every stage of treatment.

Esophagus Cancer Research

At the IU Health Simon Cancer Center, we conduct advanced research in the lab and on the clinical level to stay on the forefront of the treatment of esophageal cancer. We offer many clinical trials, including the use of Herceptin® and Cyramza® for esophageal cancer. These targeted drugs help prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells.

We are also home to physicians with unique expertise in esophageal cancer research. Our physicians are working to develop new treatment options, such as the use of immunotherapy to fight esophageal cancer.

In addition, we have collaborated with researchers at Purdue University to learn how the presence of certain chemicals in your body can help diagnose cancers. These chemicals can also help physicians better determine what treatment will benefit you most. Our physicians are the only ones in the world performing this research.