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Find out about having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together for oesophageal cancer and how you have it.

Chemoradiotherapy means having chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment together.

What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs circulate throughout the body in the bloodstream.

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves similar to x-rays to kill cancer cells.

Giving these treatments together can cure some early stage oesophageal cancers. Chemoradiotherapy can also shrink a cancer before surgery to make it easier to remove.


You usually have treatment in the chemotherapy day unit or you might need to stay in hospital overnight.


The most common chemotherapy is cisplatin and capecitabine (Xeloda). You might have it before the radiotherapy starts. You continue to have it during the radiotherapy treatment.

You take capecitabine as tablets twice a day throughout your treatment.

You have cisplatin chemotherapy as a drip into your arm every 3 weeks.

A nurse puts a small tube into one of your veins and connects it to the drip or you might need a central line. This is a long plastic tube that gives the drug into a large vein, either in your chest or in your arm. It stays in while you’re having treatment, which might be for a few months.

There are other types of chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy treatment

You have radiotherapy in short sessions every weekday for about 4 to 6 weeks. You have it in the hospital radiotherapy department.

Planning your treatment

Before you begin treatment, the radiotherapy team work out how much radiation you need. They divide it into a number of smaller treatments. They call each treatment a fraction. 

The radiographers might make pen marks or small tattoos on your skin in the treatment area. You may need to raise your arms above your head for a while. Or you might have a mask made to keep you still while you have treatment.

After your planning session

Your treatment starts a few days or up to 3 weeks after the planning session. 

Having treatment

You lie under a large machine to have radiotherapy.

Side effects

Information and help

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