Understanding Esophageal Cancer: Surgery

There are surgeries that can be done to treat esophageal cancer. Often surgery goes along with other treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. The amount and type of surgery depends on the stage of esophageal cancer.


This surgery removes all or part of the esophagus. Many times, a small amount of the stomach is removed too. Lymph nodes are often removed as well. In the surgery, the top of the esophagus is then reattached to the stomach. In some cases, the surgeon may replace the removed part of the esophagus with a piece of your small or large intestine.

Esophagectomies are complex surgeries. There are 2 methods:

Open esophagectomy: The main cut (incision) is in either the chest or abdomen. Sometimes there is more than one incision.

Minimally invasive esophagectomy: If the cancer is caught early and is small, the surgeon can remove the esophagus through several small incisions (cuts). The surgeon use a scope (like a tiny telescope) to see everything during the operation. Then long, thin surgical instruments go in through other small incisions. A minimally invasive esophagectomy lets you leave the hospital sooner. Recovery time is also shorter.

When removing some or all of the esophagus, the surgeon will take out nearby lymph nodes too. These lymph nodes will be checked for cancer cells.

What to Expect

After surgery of the esophagus, you may experience side effects:

  • The stomach empties too slowly which can cause nausea and vomiting.
  • You may need another surgery, if there is a leak where the stomach meets the esophagus.
  • Narrowing of the esophagus may cause trouble swallowing.
  • You may experience heartburn.

Keep in mind that esophageal surgery is very complicated. Ask your surgeon about any risks or side effects.

Return to list of treatment options. 

Back to “Understanding Esophageal Cancer: An Introduction”