If the cancer is in an early stage, surgery may be used to cure the cancer. There are different types of operations used to treat esophageal cancer. The aim of the operation will depend on the size and position of the tumor. Some types of surgery may require that you stay in the hospital for a period of time.

Types of surgery

There are two main types of surgery.

  • Esophagectomy
    The part of the esophagus that contains the cancer is removed. The stomach is joined to the lower part of the esophagus.
  • Esophago-gastrectomy
    If the cancer is in the lower part of the esophagus, or if it has grown into the stomach. The affected part of the stomach and part of the esophagus are removed. The esophagus and the remaining part of the stomach are joined.

In rare cases, the entire esophagus must be eliminated (total esophagectomy). Your stomach will be repositioned to replace the part of the esophagus that has been eliminated.

Lymph node surgery

During your operation, the surgeon will examine the area around the esophagus. They will also take out part of the nearby lymph nodes. This is called lymphadenectomy, and is performed because the lymph nodes may contain cancer cells. The lymph nodes will be examined by a pathologist under a microscope.

Endoscopic mucosal resection

Cancers of the esophagus that are in an early stage and are only found on the inner lining of the esophagus (mucosa) can sometimes be treated by endoscopic resection of the mucosa.

This procedure involves performing an endoscopy. The cancer is raised from the muscle layer of the esophagus, which makes it possible to be removed. This is done by injecting a fluid into the layer of cells found below the cancer or through gentle suction. Your specialist will explain to you how this is done.

The most common side effects are bleeding and narrowing of the esophagus. There is a very small risk of tearing the esophageal wall.

Your doctor can recommend additional treatment after the procedure to destroy any cancer cells that are left. The treatments that can be used in these situations are radiofrequency ablation, photodynamic therapy, and argon plasma coagulation.