Understanding Esophageal Cancer: Explore Your Options

If you’ve been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, it’s important to explore all options related to esophageal cancer treatment. Below, learn what’s next, what questions to ask the doctor, and what treatments are available.

Finding an Oncologist              

The first step on the esophageal cancer treatment journey is to find an oncologist (medical or surgical) who inspires trust. It may seem overwhelming to choose an oncologist. First, start with referrals from your primary care physician, specialist, or insurance carrier. Talk to family and friends who may have recommendations.  

Here are some things to consider when choosing an oncologist:

  • Is the oncologist board certified?
  • How much experience does he or she have in treating esophageal cancer?
  • Do you feel comfortable talking with this doctor? Does he or she listen well?
  • Is the staff compassionate? Is the environment a good one or do you feel rushed?
  • What hospital(s) does this oncologist see patients in?
  • What are the office hours?
  • What if you have an emergency? Can you call?
  • Can this doctor be contacted after hours?

You will be spending a lot of time with the oncologist and staff nurses and technicians, so it’s important to feel comfortable with them. 

As you and your doctor explore the treatment options open to you, make sure you find out the answers to the following:

  • What are the chances my cancer will come back after this treatment?
  • What do we do if the cancer comes back or the treatment doesn’t work?
  • Will I lose my hair?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Will there be scars? 

Choosing a Cancer Center

Choosing where to receive treatment is just as important as selecting an oncologist. It’s good to know the differences between hospitals. Here are some guidelines:

  • Academic cancer centers: These are affiliated with medical schools. At these locations, high priority is put on research. They are usually located in large cities.
  • Community cancer centers: The main focus is on patient care.
  • Cancer centers: These are noted for a high quality of science and research.

Some questions to ask before choosing where to get your treatment include:

  • Volume: How many esophageal cancer surgeries does the surgeon do annually?
  • Travel: How far do you want to travel? Would there be extra costs?
  • Cost: Is the hospital covered by your insurance plan?
  • Accreditations: What accreditations does the hospital hold? 

Treatment Options

It’s helpful to understand the possible treatments for esophageal cancer. Following are overviews of the most common treatments. Reading these should help you know what to expect, what the potential side effects are, and what the advantages are to each. 

In general, there are 3 options for treating esophageal cancer:

There are also additional treatment options

Surgery can cure some patients, if the cancer is caught early. However, if the cancer has spread beyond the esophagus, surgery may not be able to remove all the cancer cells.

Questions To Ask Your Doctor

  • What kind of esophageal cancer do I have?
  • Has my cancer spread beyond the primary site?
  • What is the stage of my cancer?
  • Are there other tests that need to be done before we can decide on treatment?
  • Are there other doctors I need to see?
  • How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  • What treatment choices do I have?
  • What treatment(s) do you recommend and why?
  • What is the goal of the treatment?
  • What are the chances my cancer can be cured with these options?
  • What are the risks or side effects that I should expect? How long are they likely to last?
  • How quickly do we need to decide on treatment?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • Will I have special nutritional needs due to the esophageal cancer?
  • How long will treatment last? What will it involve? Where will it be done?
  • What would we do if the treatment doesn't work or if the cancer recurs?
  • What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
  • Where can I find more information and support?

When you first meet with your doctor, it can be helpful to bring someone else with you. That way, there’s someone else to hear what is said and to ask questions. Here are some other tips for talking with your doctor:

  • Write out your questions ahead of time.
  • Write down the answers your doctor gives you.
  • If you don’t understand something, ask your doctor to say it in a different way. It’s important that you understand, and you have a right to know. 

Back to “Understanding Esophageal Cancer: An Introduction”