Esophageal cancer is a devastating disease. Although some patients can be cured, the treatment for esophageal cancer is protracted, decreases quality of life, and is lethal in a significant number of cases.
As with many cancers, esophageal cancer treatment has a greater chance of success if the cancer is caught early. Unfortunately, by the time most esophageal cancer is diagnosed, it is often already in an advanced state, having spread throughout the esophagus and beyond.
Surgery to remove all or a portion of the esophagus is called an esophagectomyProcedure involves the removal of the cancerous portion of the esophagus, along with nearby lymph nodes. The esophagus is then reattached to the stomach, either by stretching the stomach up to the esophagus, or by reconnecting it with a portion of the large intestine that has been removed and reattached as an extension of the esophagus. Esophagectomy is best suited for esophageal cancer patients still in the earlier stages of the disease, before it has progressed to the stomach or other areas of the body.
Your surgeon will explain the risks and alternatives to surgery in detail with you. It is an extensive procedure, requiring a significant amount of time under general anesthesia. Every possible precaution will be taken. The major risks of an esophagectomy are leaks from the internal suture line, pneumonia or infection, bleeding, abnormal heart rhythms, and rarely heart attack and death.
Patients spend a week or more in the hospital after surgery. In some cases, recovery can take up to six months. Postoperative complications emerge in up to 30 percent of patients ??? though they may be minor.
Patients should expect to change dietary habits after surgery, eating smaller portions of soft foods and avoiding high-fat and spicy dishes, and not taking liquids with meals. Many patients find it easier to puree meals. Patients often find it helpful to eat more slowly and to stand or sit upright for a few hours after meals to minimize reflux and regurgitation.