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Chemoradiation for oesophageal cancer

This page tells you about the combination treatment of chemotherapy and radiotherapy for cancer of the food pipe (oesophageal cancer).

 

A quick guide to what’s on this page

Chemoradiation for oesophageal cancer

Doctors may use a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat oesophageal cancer. This is called chemoradiation. You may have this treatment before surgery or instead of surgery. Your exact treatment plan will depend on what your doctor thinks is best for you.

There are several different chemotherapy drugs that doctors can use. But the most common combination is cisplatin and capecitabine. You usually have chemotherapy every 3 weeks. You may have chemotherapy before radiotherapy starts (neo adjuvant) as well as at the same time (concurrently).

You have radiotherapy every weekday for about 5 weeks. Most people manage to have all their treatment as an outpatient but some may need to go into hospital to treat side effects.

Side effects of chemoradiation treatment

Having radiotherapy and chemotherapy together can be quite intensive. You may be prone to getting infections due to the chemotherapy. You may also have radiotherapy side effects, such as tiredness, reddening of the skin in the treatment area, sickness, a very sore throat, and weight loss. All these side effects can be managed, so let your doctor or nurse know about any that you have.
 

CR PDF Icon View a summary of treating oesophageal cancer.

 

 

Combined chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment

Doctors may use a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to treat oesophageal cancer. This is called chemoradiation. You may have this treatment before surgery or instead of surgery. Your exact treatment plan will depend on what your doctor thinks is best for you.

There are several different chemotherapy drugs that doctors can use. But the most common combination is cisplatin and capecitabine (Xeloda). You usually have chemotherapy every 3 weeks. You may have chemotherapy before radiotherapy starts (neo adjuvant treatment) as well as at the same time (concurrent treatment).

You have cisplatin through a drip into your arm. You usually have this as an outpatient. But sometimes you may need to stay in overnight. Capecitabine is a tablet that you take twice a day throughout your treatment.

You have radiotherapy every weekday for about 5 weeks. Most people manage to have all their treatment as an outpatient. But due to side effects, some may need to be admitted into hospital to finish their treatment. There is detailed information about having radiotherapy in the main radiotherapy section.

 

Side effects of chemoradiation treatment

Having radiotherapy and chemotherapy together can be quite intensive. You will have the general side effects from chemotherapy, such as a drop in your blood counts. And you will also have side effects from radiotherapy, such as tiredness and reddening of the skin in the treatment area. You are also likely to have

Sickness

There are very good anti sickness drugs available. Let your nurse or doctor know if you don't think the one you are taking is working well enough. There are several different types of anti sickness and so another type may work better for you.

Sore throat

Most people having this treatment get an increasingly sore throat. You may find swallowing more and more difficult as your course of treatment goes on. Your doctor will give you painkillers and may suggest you only drink liquids for the time being. Some people need to have painkillers through a pump when they are having this treatment. This gives you a constant dose of painkiller and helps to make sure that you are as comfortable as possible throughout the treatment.

Weight loss

Because of difficulty swallowing, many people having this treatment lose a bit of weight. Try not to worry too much about this, even if you had lost weight before you were diagnosed. You can build yourself up once you have got over the treatment. If your doctor is worried about your weight, they may suggest that you go into hospital. There you can have tube feeding until you have recovered from your treatment and can eat normally again.

There is detailed information in this section about the particular side effects of radiotherapy and the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer of the oesophagus.

 

Getting information and support

We have detailed information about chemotherapy and about radiotherapy on our website. You can ask your doctor or specialist nurse for written information.

You could also email our cancer information nurses with any questions about treatment, or call them from Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm on freephone 0808 800 4040. They will be happy to help.

Our oesophageal cancer organisations page has details of organisations that can put you in touch with a cancer support group. The oesophageal cancer reading list has information about books, leaflets and CDs on oesophageal cancer treatments.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use CancerChat, our online forum.

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Updated: 22 April 2014