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Research and clinical trials

Find out about the latest UK research, clinical trials and how you can take part.

Research into preventing oesophageal cancer

Medicines to prevent cancer

Researchers are looking into using drugs to prevent oesophageal cancer. They are testing aspirin and other types of anti inflammatory drugs.

Treatment for early cell changes to stop cancer developing

One of the treatments researchers are looking at is heat from radio waves. The aim is to kill any abnormal cells. This treatment is called radio frequency ablation.

Barrett’s oesophagus

This is a condition that can sometimes develop into an oesophageal cancer. Research is looking into Barrett’s oesophagus and how to treat it.

Research into the causes of oesophageal cancer


Gene changes could be important in the development of Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer. Researchers are looking into why some people develop it and others don’t.


There are differences in the number of people developing oesophageal cancer around the world. Some countries have a lower rate than others. Researchers think this might be due to diet.

Human papilloma virus (HPV)

It is not clear exactly what role this infection has in the development of oesophageal cancer. Researchers are looking into a new way of picking up HPV infections.

This might help find people who are at more risk of developing oesophageal cancer in the future.

Research into treatment


Researchers are looking into different ways of doing surgery to remove oesophageal cancer. They are comparing traditional surgery with keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery.

Cancer can spread into lymph nodes close by. The first node or group of nodes that cancer travels to is called the sentinel lymph node. Researchers are looking into whether using keyhole surgery is a better way to remove these nodes.


Trials are looking at different combinations of chemotherapy. They are looking at chemotherapy

  • before surgery
  • for advanced cancer
  • for people who are not well enough to have standard chemotherapy
  • and how it affects quality of life

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy together

Chemotherapy with radiotherapy is called chemoradiotherapy. There is evidence showing that having it before surgery can help some people live longer. It works better with squamous cell cancers than other types of oesophageal cancer.

Research is now looking at using chemoradiotherapy

  • for advanced cancer to try to make surgery possible
  • after surgery to lower the risk of the cancer coming back

Biological therapies

Biological therapies are drugs that change the way cells work. They can boost the body’s immune system to fight off or kill cancer cells or they can block signals that tell cells to grow.

Growth factor blocker drugs block proteins that make cells grow and multiply eg lapatinib.

PARP inhibitors are drugs that block proteins that help cells repair their DNA, eg olaparib.

Vaccines help the immune system recognise and attack cancer cells. Research is looking at how they can stop cancers coming back.

Monoclonal antibodies recognise abnormal proteins on cancer cells. They can

  • change how the cancer cell works
  • take chemotherapy or radiotherapy into the cell to kill it
  • make it easier for the immune system to recognise and kill cancer cells

Types used for oesophageal cancer include bevacizumab (Avastin), ramucirumab, cetuximab and onartuzumab.

Researchers are looking at giving them on their own and with chemotherapy.

Immunotherapy uses your own immune system to kill the cancer cells.

Researchers are looking into making a change to particular immune cells. They hope this will help the immune cells to recognise cancer cells that have a particular protein.

Light therapy (photodynamic therapy)

With this treatment you take a drug to make your body cells more sensitive to light. The doctor then shines a bright light onto the cancer cells. This makes the drug kill the cancer cells.

Researchers are also looking into light therapy as a treatment for Barrett’s oesophagus.

Gene tests before treatment

Researchers are looking at genes in oesophageal cancer. They want to find out if it can help them work out which treatment is best for each person.

Stopping the cancer coming back

Research has shown that aspirin may lower the risk of dying from cancer. It may also lower the risk of some cancers spreading to other parts of the body.

A large trial is looking at whether aspirin can lower the risk of oesophageal cancer coming back after treatment.

Advanced oesophageal cancer research

Treating difficulty in swallowing

Doctors treat difficulty swallowing by putting a small tube (stent) put into your oesophagus. Sometimes, the cancer grows and makes it difficult to swallow again.

Researchers are looking into whether giving radiotherapy after you have a stent might help it to last longer.

They are also looking at new types of small tubes (stents)

Drugs to help people feel better

Weight loss is common in people who have advanced cancer. When you have severe weight loss it is a complex problem that involves changes in how our bodies deal with food. It can lead to muscle wasting. Researchers are trying to find out if thalidomide can slow down this process.

Research into treatment for advanced oesophageal cancer

Researchers are looking into different treatments for advanced oesophageal cancer including

  • chemotherapy
  • biological therapies

Our Research

Last reviewed: 
05 May 2016
  • Aspirin and cancer risk: a quantitative review to 2011.

    Ann Oncol. 2012 Jun;23(6):1403-15.

    Bosetti C and others.

  • Endoscopic treatment of high-grade dysplasia and early cancer in Barrett's oesophagus.

    Conio M, Cameron AJ, Chak A, Blanchi S, Filiberti R.

    Lancet Oncol. 2005 May;6(5):311-21.

  • The aetiological role of human papillomavirus in oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma: a meta-analysis.

    Liyanage SS and others

    PLoS One. 2013 Jul 24;8(7):e69238.

  • A phase II study of gefitinib monotherapy in advanced esophageal adenocarcinoma: evidence of gene expression, cellular, and clinical response.

    Ferry DR and others

    Clin Cancer Res. 2007 Oct 1;13(19):5869-75.

  • Survival benefits from neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy or chemotherapy in oesophageal carcinoma: a meta-analysis.

    Lancet Oncol. 2007 Mar;8(3):226-34.

    Gebski V and others

  • Endoscopic submucosal dissection of oesophageal dysplasia and neoplasia

    NICE interventional procedure guidance [IPG355]  September 2010

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