Research into oesophageal cancer

Researchers around the world are looking at the causes, diagnosis and treatment of cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus).

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for oesophageal cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research in oesophageal cancer.

When in the trials database, you can click on the tabs along the top to view trials that are recruiting, closed to recruitment or have results.

Research into causes and prevention of oesophageal cancer

Understanding how cancer develops

Researchers are looking at cell changes in pre cancer and cancer cells. They want to have a better understanding of why: 

  • abnormal cells in the oesophagus sometimes develop into cancer
  • why some people develop oesophageal cancer and others don’t

This could help doctors understand more about the causes of oesophageal cancer. 

One study looked at families affected by a condition called Barrett’s oesophagus. Barrett’s oesophagus means that some cells in the lining of your oesophagus have started to change. In a small number of people these cells may develop into oesophageal cancer over a long period of time. The study team identified some inherited gene changes. They think these may play a small part in the development of Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer. 

Treatment for early cell changes to stop cancer developing

One of the treatments researchers are looking at is heat from radio waves to destroy any abnormal cells. This is called radiofrequency ablation.

The treatment is for people with Barrett’s oesophagus or abnormal changes to squamous cells in the food pipe (squamous dysplasia).

We have more information about the diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of Barrett’s oesophagus.

Research into diagnosing oesophageal cancer

Doctors are looking at better ways to diagnose oesophageal cancer at an earlier stage. Research includes looking at:

  • a capsule sponge test such as the Cytosponge test
  • a blood test called the Galleri test
  • breath tests

Research into treatment

Tests before treatment

Researchers are looking at genes in oesophageal cancers. They hope this will help them work out which treatment is best for each person.


Doctors are looking at different ways of doing surgery to remove oesophageal cancer. They are comparing open surgery with keyhole (laparoscopic) surgery. 

Trial teams are trying to find ways to help people after surgery to: 

  • recover faster
  • have fewer complications  
  • improve their quality of life 

One example is testing a rehabilitation programme that provides support with diet and exercise. 


Researchers are looking at:

  • giving additional cancer drugs to see if they increase the time before cancer comes back - this is sometimes called maintenance treatment
  • combining chemotherapy with targeted drugs to see if it works better
  • different combinations of chemotherapy drugs
  • options for people who are not well enough to have standard chemotherapy
  • chemotherapy options for advanced cancer
  • the side effects of chemotherapy


Research teams are looking at:

  • giving a higher dose of radiotherapy to see if it works better
  • using different chemotherapy drugs with radiotherapy
  • using immunotherapy drugs with radiotherapy
  • the best way to give radiotherapy for advanced cancer 
  • the side effects and how people cope with them

Targeted cancer drugs

Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to grow and survive. Some seek out and destroy cancer cells. Others help the body's immune system to attack the cancer. So some of these drugs are also called immunotherapies.

Researchers are looking at giving these drugs on their own or with chemotherapy. Examples of these drugs include:

  • pembrolizumab
  • durvalumab
  • tiragolumab
  • zanidatamab
  • atezolizumab
  • nivolumab
  • T cell therapy

Some of these drugs are already used to treat other cancers, and some are new drugs.

After treatment

Monitoring after treatment

After treatment for oesophageal cancer you might be monitored to check if the cancer has come back. Researchers are looking at the best way to do this. An example is research looking at the capsule sponge test called Cytosponge. Doctors want to find out if this might be a possible way to monitor people after treatment

Stopping 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. 

Our Research

  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials database 
    Accessed June 2023

  • Clinical database
    Accessed June 2023

  • Aspirin and cancer: biological mechanisms and clinical outcomes
    P Elwood and others
    Open Biology, 2022. Volume 12. Pages 1-7

  • Oesophageal cancer
    EC Smyth and others
    Nature Reviews Disease Primers, 2017. Volume 3. Pages 1-44

  • Oesophageal cancer
    J Lagergren and others
    The Lancet, 2017. Volume 390. Pages 2383-2396

Last reviewed: 
27 Sep 2023
Next review due: 
28 Sep 2026

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