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What is advanced oesophageal cancer?

Men and women discussing non oesophageal cancer

This page explains what advanced cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus) means. You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

What is advanced oesophageal cancer?

Generally, advanced cancer of the oesophagus means the cancer has spread from where it first started in the food pipe. Your cancer may be advanced when it is first diagnosed. Or it may have come back sometime after you were first treated. Doctors call this recurrent cancer or a recurrence. Your doctor may also describe your cancer as advanced if it is too large for a surgeon to remove when you are first diagnosed. Or if the cancer is too large to have radiotherapy at a high enough dose to cure it. The large doses of radiotherapy needed would cause too many side effects.

Controlling advanced oesophageal cancer

Even if your cancer can't be cured, there is treatment available to control your symptoms. This treatment may also shrink the cancer and slow it down, even if it cannot get rid of it altogether. This could keep it under control for a while. Your doctor won't be able to tell you how long this will be for. But your doctors and nurses will keep a close eye on you.

If you would like to, you might be able to join a clinical trial. Ask your doctor or nurse about any that you might be suitable for.

Where to find out more

If you would like more information about anything to do with advanced cancer, contact our cancer information nurses. They will be happy to help. You can call them on freephone 0808 800 4040. They are open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.
 

CR PDF Icon View a summary of treating advanced oesophageal cancer.

 

 

What advanced cancer of the oesophagus means

Generally, advanced cancer of the oesophagus means the cancer has spread from where it first started in the food pipe. Your cancer may be advanced when it is first diagnosed. Or it may have come back sometime after you were first treated. Doctors call this recurrent cancer or a recurrence.

Your doctor may also describe your cancer as advanced if it is too large for a surgeon to remove when you are first diagnosed. Or if the cancer is too large to have radiotherapy at a high enough dose to cure it. The large doses of radiotherapy needed would cause too many side effects.

 

How cancer spreads

Cancer spread can be

  • Local
  • To another part of the body

Local spread means the cancer has grown from where it started in the oesophagus into the surrounding area. It may have grown through the wall of the oesophagus into nearby tissues.

A cancer that has spread to another part of the body is called a secondary cancer or metastasis. Some of the oesophagus cancer cells have broken away from the main tumour and travelled through the lymphatic system or bloodstream. Then, they lodge in another part of the body and start to grow there. There is more information about how cancers grow and how cancers spread in the about cancer section.

 

Where oesophageal cancer can spread

There are some parts of the body that oesophageal cancer cells are more likely to travel to. These include the

Click on the links to find out more about secondary cancers.

Not all oesophageal cancers will spread. And not all will spread to the same places. It is not possible to be too definite about this because the same type of cancer can behave in completely different ways in different people.

Remember that you are just as likely to get the same aches and pains, colds, and off days as anyone else. Do check with your doctor about any symptom that is worrying you as it may not be caused by your cancer. And if it is, you and your doctor can then talk about what to do about it.

 

Controlling advanced oesophageal cancer

Sadly, cancer that has spread to another part of the body is not curable. Unfortunately, we don't have powerful enough treatments yet to cure oesophageal cancer once it has spread. But chemotherapy treatment or radiotherapy treatment can often shrink the cancer and control symptoms for some time. Your doctor won't be able to tell you how long this will be for. But your doctors and nurses will keep a close eye on you. As time goes on they will be able to tell from your symptoms, and any scans and tests you have, how quickly or slowly your cancer is likely to develop.

There is information about coping with the emotional and practical aspects of advanced cancer in the dying with cancer section.

If you would like to, you might be able to join a clinical trial. Ask your doctor or nurse about any that might be suitable for you. There is information to help you understand the clinical trial process in the trials and research section. There is also a page in this section about research into oesophageal cancer. If you would like to look for trials for oesophageal cancer, go to our clinical trials database

If you would like more information about anything to do with advanced cancer, contact our cancer information nurses. They will be happy to help.

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Updated: 22 April 2014