NCCN Guidelines for Patients
: Esophageal Cancer
Part 4: Overview of cancer treatments
Radiation therapy is likely to cause changes in your
skin. Your treated skin will look and feel as if it has
been sunburned. It will likely become red and may
also become dry, sore, and feel painful when touched.
You may have pain in your throat, stomach, or intestine.
Other reactions may include trouble swallowing,
extreme tiredness despite sleep, and loss of appetite.
Treatment side effects
Side effects are unhealthy or unpleasant physical
or emotional conditions caused by cancer
treatment. Each treatment for esophageal cancer
can cause side effects, but how your body will
respond can’t be fully known. You may have
different side effects than someone else.
Some side effects of treatment are listed in this
booklet. Please ask your treatment team for a list
of all common and rare side effects. If a side effect
bothers you, tell your treatment team. There may
be ways to help you feel better.
Chemotherapy, or ‘chemo,’ is the use of drugs to treat
cancer. Cell growth is stopped by damaging DNA
cid) in cells or disrupting the making
of DNA. Chemotherapy doesn’t work on cells in a resting
phase. Since cancer cells grow fast, chemotherapy can
stop new cancer cells from being made.
Chemotherapy is given alone or sometimes with
radiation therapy to treat esophageal cancer. When only
one drug is used, it is called a single agent. However,
chemotherapy drugs differ in the way they work, so often
more than one drug is used. A combination regimen
is the use of two or more chemotherapy drugs. The
chemotherapy drugs used for esophageal cancer are
listed in Table 2.
Most chemotherapy drugs for esophageal cancer are
liquids that are slowly injected into a vein. Some are a pill
that is swallowed. The drugs travel in the bloodstream to
treat cancer throughout the body.
Chemotherapy is given in cycles of treatment days
followed by days of rest. This allows the body to recover
before the next cycle. Cycles vary in length depending
on which drugs are used. Often, a cycle is 14, 21, or 28
The reactions to chemotherapy differ. Some people have
many side effects. Others have few. Some side effects
can be very serious, while others can be unpleasant but
not serious. Side effects of chemotherapy depend on
the drug type, amount taken, length of treatment, and
the person. In general, side effects are caused by the
death of fast-growing cells. These cells are found in the
gut, mouth, and blood. Thus, common side effects of
chemotherapy include low blood cell counts, not feeling
hungry, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hair loss, and mouth