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Chemotherapy treatment

When, where and how you have chemotherapy for Oesophageal cancer, and types with their possible side effects.

When you have it

You usually have chemotherapy every 3 weeks. Each 3 week period is called a cycle. You may have between 2 and 6 cycles of chemotherapy.

Before surgery

You’re likely to have chemotherapy before surgery if you have stage 2 or 3 oesophageal cancer. This is called neo adjuvant treatment. It aims to

  • reduce the size of the cancer so it’s easier for the surgeon to remove
  • lower the risk of the cancer coming back

Before and after surgery

You may have chemotherapy before and after surgery (peri operative chemotherapy) if you have adenocarcinoma of the lower oesophagus or where the oesophagus meets the stomach (oesophago gastric junction).

Having chemotherapy after surgery might reduce the chances of your cancer coming back.

Advanced cancer

You may also have chemotherapy if you have advanced oesophageal cancer.

Chemotherapy for advanced cancer

Types of Chemotherapy

Usually you have a combination of 2 or 3 drugs,the most common types are For adenocarcinoma of the oesophagus, other common combinations include Other drugs that you may have include

How you have chemotherapy

Into your bloodstream

You have it through a drip into your arm. A nurse puts a small tube (a cannula) into one of your veins and connects the drip to it.

You may need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drugs into a large vein, either in your chest or through a vein in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which may be for a few months.

Where you have chemotherapy

You usually have treatment at the cancer day clinic. You’ll sit in a chair for a few hours so it’s a good idea to take newspapers, books or electronic devices to help to pass the time.

You have some types of chemotherapy over several days. You may be able to have it through a pump that you can go home with.

For some types of chemotherapy you have to stay in a hospital ward. This could be overnight or for a couple of days.

Before you start chemotherapy

You need to have blood tests to make sure it’s safe to start treatment. You have these either a few days before or on the day you start treatment. You have blood tests before each round or cycle of treatment.

The pharmacists make chemotherapy for each person individually. They do this once your blood test results have come through and it’s worked out based on your weight, height and general health.

Side effects

Common chemotherapy side effects include:

  • feeling sick
  • loss of appetite
  • losing weight
  • feeling very tired
  • a lower resistance to infections
  • bleeding and bruising easily
Contact the doctor or nurse immediately if you have any signs of infection such as a temperature higher than 38C or generally feeling unwell. Infections can make you very unwell very quickly.

Side effects depend on:

  • which drugs you have
  • how much of each drug you have
  • how you react

Tell your treatment team about any side effects that you have.

When you're at home

Chemotherapy for Oesophageal cancer can be difficult to cope with. Tell your doctor or nurse about any problems or side effects that you have. The nurse will give you telephone numbers to call if you have any problems at home.

Last reviewed: 
05 May 2016
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer
    WH Allum and others 
    Gut. 2011 Nov;60(11):1449-72.

  • ESMO, oesophageal cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
     Ann Oncol. 2013 Oct;24 Suppl 6:vi51-6.

  • Preoperative chemotherapy for resectable thoracic esophageal cancer (Cochrane Review)
    R Malthaner and D Fenlon
    The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2004. Chichester, UK: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. updated 2015

  • Cancer and it’s management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2014

Information and help

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.​