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Laser therapy

Learn how doctors use hot beams of light to burn away cancer cells in the food pipe and how you'll feel after treatment.

A cancer in the food pipe (oesophagus) can partly or completely block it and make it difficult to swallow. Laser therapy burns away the cancer cells. This allows you to swallow food and drink more easily. It’s a treatment for advanced cancer.

You have this treatment in hospital in the endoscopy department or x-ray department. It usually takes about 30 minutes.

Before your treatment

Your doctor or specialist nurse explains what happens and how they do the treatment. They then ask you to sign a form saying that you agree to have the procedure. You can ask them any questions you might have. Tell them about any medicines you’re taking.

You shouldn’t eat or drink anything except water for 4 to 6 hours beforehand. You stop drinking water 2 hours before the procedure.

A nurse puts a small tube called a cannula into a vein in the back of your hand. They go with you to the endoscopy or x-ray department.

You have a medicine to make you sleepy injected into the tube in your hand or you might have a general anaesthetic.

Having treatment

While you’re very sleepy or asleep your doctor gently puts a long flexible tube called an endoscope into your mouth and down into your food pipe. The tube has a light and a small camera on the end so your doctor can see the blockage.

They position the end of the tube close to the tumour and direct a laser at it. A laser is a very powerful beam of light that heats up the cancer cells and burns them away. This takes a few minutes.

Diagram showing laser therapy for stomach cancer

Your doctor then takes the endoscopy tube out.

After treatment

You stay in the endoscopy or x-ray department until the sedative or anaesthetic wears off. You might wear an oxygen mask for a short time. A nurse then takes you back to your ward. You might be able to go home that evening or you might need to stay in hospital overnight.

Eating and drinking

You can’t eat or drink for the first 4 to 6 hours. Your nurse tells you when you can start drinking. Then you can build up to eating soft foods or normal foods again. A dietitian can advise you on what to eat.

Side effects

Soreness and pain

You might have a sore throat. Taking painkillers for a few days helps.

Tell your nurse or doctor if you still have pain.

Bleeding or coughing

You might have some slight bleeding in the food pipe. You may also cough up small pieces of tumour and have an unpleasant taste in your mouth. This usually gets better over a few days.

Your nurse will give you mouthwashes. Tell them if you cough up blood.

A hole in the food pipe

Damage to the food pipe can tear it or make a hole (perforation). This is very rare. You might need to have surgery to mend the hole if this happens.

In the first 3 days after having treatment, tell your doctor or nurse straight away if you
  • have difficulty breathing
  • get severe chest pain
  • vomit blood
  • can’t keep food or drinks down

If the tumour comes back

You can have laser treatment again if the tumour grows back or your doctor might suggest other treatments.  

Last reviewed: 
30 Sep 2016
  • Guidelines for the management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG), 2011.

  • Management of oesophageal and gastric cancer. A national clinical guideline. Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network, 2006.

  • National Oesophago Gastric Cancer Audit. NHS Information Centre, Annual Reports 2010, 2012 and 2013.

  • Oesophageal cancer: ESMO clinical practice guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow up. M Stahl, C Mariette, K Haustermans and others. Annals of Oncology. 2013. 24 (supplement 6) vi51-vi56.

  • Recent developments in esophageal adenocarcinoma. J Lagergren and P Lagergren. CA Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2013. 62: 232-24

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

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