Surgery for esophageal cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on May 19, 2022.

Surgery is the preferred procedure to treat certain early-stage esophageal cancers. For advanced esophageal cancers, other forms of treatment, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, may be used to shrink the tumor before surgery can be reconsidered. If cancer is found in the esophagus, nearby lymph nodes are also removed during surgery to test for the presence of cancer.

Types of surgical procedures used to treat esophageal cancer include:

Open esophagectomy

During an open esophagectomy, the surgeon removes some or all of the esophagus, depending on the stage of the tumor. During this type of procedure, the surgical oncologist may make incisions in the abdomen and chest or abdomen and neck. In some cases, incisions may be made in all three of these areas. The placement of incisions depends on the location of the cancer.

Minimally invasive esophagectomy

If the affected area is small, a minimally invasive esophagectomy may be performed instead of an open esophagectomy. This procedure is performed by making a few small incisions instead of one or two larger incisions. During this type of surgery, the surgical oncologist uses a laparoscope (long tube with small camera attached to the end) to help guide removal of the esophagus. Once part of the entire esophagus is removed, the remaining esophagus will be connected. If the entire lower portion of the esophagus is removed, the remaining esophagus will be connected to the stomach.

Endoscopic mucosal resection

We perform endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), a minimally invasive procedure, to remove very early-stage cancer in the esophagus. In some cases, it may be used during the diagnostic process. During an EMR, a thin tube (endoscope) is inserted down the throat. The endoscope has instruments attached to the end that are designed to remove the tumor.

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