Research into oesophageal cancer

Researchers around the world are looking at the causes, diagnosis and treatment of oeosophageal cancer.

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.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Research into causes and prevention of oesophageal cancer

Medicines to prevent cancer

Researchers have looked at using drugs to prevent oesophageal cancer. They tested aspirin combined with a drug called esomeprazole. This is a type of drug that reduces the amount of stomach acid.

The researchers found that the combination of high dose esomeprazole and aspirin could help prevent oesophageal cancer in people with Barrett’s oesophagus.

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).


Researchers have identified some gene changes that they think are important in the development of Barret’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.

Researchers are also looking into why some people develop oesophageal cancer and others don’t.

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 diagnosing oesophageal cancer

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

  • new tests to diagnose oesophageal cancer, such as the cytosponge test
  • tests that might detect oesophageal cancer at an early stage

Gene 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.

Research into treatment


Researchers are looking at ways to reduce complications and improve quality of life after surgery. 

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


Researchers are looking at:

  • giving additional chemotherapy or targeted 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 and radiotherapy together

Chemotherapy with radiotherapy is called chemoradiotherapy. Researchers are looking at:

  • giving a higher dose of radiotherapy to see if it works better
  • using different chemotherapy drugs, to see if they work better in some patients 
  • what the side effects are, 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 combined with other treatments. Researchers are looking at many different types of targeted drugs and immunotherapies for oesophageal cancer, including:

  • pembrolizumab
  • durvalumab
  • tremelimumab
  • ibrutinib
  • M6620
  • nivolumab
  • avelumab

After treatment

Monitoring after treatment

After treatment for oesophageal cancer you might have an endoscopy if you have difficulty swallowing,  to check if the cancer has come back. The doctor puts a tube down your throat which can be uncomfortable and has some risks.

Doctors are looking at a new test called a cytosponge test. They want to know if this might be a possible way to monitor people after chemoradiotherapy.

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

Last reviewed: 
22 Nov 2019
  • Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials database 
    Accessed November 2019

  • Clinical database
    Accessed November 2019

  • Current management of oesophageal cancer
    N Rashid and others
    British Journal of Medical practitioners 2015 Volume 8, Issue 1, page 804

  • Oesophageal cancer: risks, prevention and diagnosis
    S G Thrumwurthy and others
    British Medical Journal 2019. 366 14373

  • Oesophageal cancer
    E.C.Smith and others
    Nature Reviews Disease Primers Volume 3: 17048 (2018)

  • Oesophageal cancer
    J Lagergren and others
    The Lancet Vol 390, November 25th 2017

Related links