About advanced oesophageal cancer

Advanced oesophageal cancer means that a cancer that began in the food pipe (gullet or oesophagus) has spread to another part of the body.

Diagram showing oesophageal cancer that has spread to the liver

Unfortunately advanced cancer can’t usually be cured. But treatment might control it, help symptoms, and improve your quality of life for some time.

Sometimes cancer is advanced when it is first diagnosed. Or the cancer has come back and spread after treatment for the original cancer.

Cancers that have spread to another part of the body are called:

  • secondary cancer
  • metastases
  • metastatic cancer

Locally advanced cancer

Locally advanced cancer means that the cancer has spread into the tissues around the oesophagus. It hasn’t spread to other organs in the body. This is different to an advanced cancer.  

Locally advanced cancers are either stage 2 or stage 3.

How you might feel

Finding out that you can’t be cured is distressing and can be a shock. It’s common to feel uncertain and anxious. It's normal to not be able to think about anything else.

Lots of information and support is available to you, your family and friends. Some people find it helpful to find out more about their cancer and the treatments they might have. Many people find that knowing more about their situation can make it easier to cope.

    Talk to your doctor or nurse to understand:

    • what your diagnosis means
    • what is likely to happen
    • what treatment is available
    • how treatment can help you


    Many people want to know what the outlook is and how their cancer will develop. This is different for each person. Your doctor is the best person to discuss this with you because they have all the information about your cancer.

    You can also talk to your specialist nurse. Or you can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on 0808 800 4040, from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.


    The most common symptoms are:

    • feeling very tired
    • feeling generally unwell
    • problems swallowing
    • weight loss

    Some people have pain but painkillers can usually control this well.


    You might have tests to find out exactly where the cancer has spread to.


    Treatment aims to control the cancer for a time and reduce symptoms. Radiotherapy or chemotherapy may shrink the cancer or stop it growing.

    Some treatments can help you to swallow more easily if the cancer is partly blocking your food pipe.  

    Last reviewed: 
    01 Nov 2019
    • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), 2011.

    • Oesophago-gastric cancer: assessment and management in adults  [NG83]
      National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)
      Published January 2018

    • Oesophageal cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
      F. Lordick and others
      Ann Oncol. 2016 27 Suppl 6: v50-v57

    • Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), March 2004

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