Medical Treatment of Esophageal Cancer

Treatment for esophageal cancer depends on its location, size, and stage; the patient’s overall health, goals, and preferences; and other factors.

UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center delivers an evidence-based, multidisciplinary approach to treating esophageal cancer.

If you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, the specialists at UT Southwestern will work with you to decide on a treatment plan individualized for you and your specific needs.

Medical Treatment

Chemotherapy is the most common medical treatment for esophageal cancer. It uses powerful medications, taken by mouth or intravenously, to target and destroy the cancer cells.

For esophageal cancer, chemotherapy is often used along with radiation therapy (chemoradiation), particularly before surgery. This combination strategy can lower the chance of your esophageal cancer returning and help you live longer.

Many of our esophageal cancer patients who require chemotherapy see medical oncologist Muhammad Beg, M.D.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells and keep them from growing.

The researchers and clinicians at UT Southwestern are nationally recognized leaders in developing and using radiation therapies to target cancer. If you have esophageal cancer, your clinical team may suggest radiation therapy as a treatment.

Our radiation oncologists who specialize in treating esophageal cancer include Hak Choy, M.D., and Jeffrey Meyer, M.D., who has special expertise in cancer of the gastroesophageal (GE) junction.

Types of Radiation Therapy

Our physicians primarily use two types of radiation therapy to treat esophageal cancer:

External radiation therapy
Uses a machine outside your body to send radiation toward the cancerous tumor
Internal radiation therapy (brachytherapy)
Involves the insertion of an endoscopic tube into your throat to position radioactive material close to the cancer

Depending on the stage, size, and location of your esophageal cancer, your UT Southwestern specialist may suggest either of these two types of radiation therapy in conjunction with chemotherapy (chemoradiation). This combination may be used to treat the cancer before, after, or instead of surgery.

Radiation therapy also may be recommended to help with swallowing problems associated with esophageal cancer.


For early-stage esophageal cancer that hasn’t spread beyond the esophagus and nearby lymph nodes, surgery is often the first course of action.

The world-class cancer care team at UT Southwestern Medical Center uses state-of-the-art surgical techniques and resources to treat esophageal cancer. We can perform open surgery or advanced, minimally invasive surgery – including robotic esophagectomy – that may successfully treat your esophageal cancer.

In an esophagectomy, your surgeon will remove the cancer and part, or all, of the esophagus.

Robotic Esophagectomy

UT Southwestern surgical oncologist Kemp Kernstine, M.D., Ph.D., is a pioneer of this sophisticated minimally invasive surgery and uses it to treat many patients with esophageal cancer.

With robotic esophagectomy, your surgeon inserts a laparoscope through small punctures to see the affected area very clearly, in great detail. This enables very precise access to the esophagus and cancerous tumor.

Benefits of robotic surgery include:

  • No large incisions – puncture wounds only
  • Less postoperative pain and scarring
  • Faster recovery
  • Reduced risk of infection
  • Quicker return to mobility and normal activity

UT Southwestern is credited with performing several first robotic chest procedures and techniques, including the world’s first published robotic oncologic esophagectomy. Since that first surgery, we have become one of the highest-volume robotic thoracic surgery centers in the country.

After surgery, we may recommend medical treatment such as chemotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Support Services

Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center offers an array of support services to people undergoing treatment at UT Southwestern for esophageal cancer – and even for those who have been treated in the past. These services range from survivorship seminars to nutrition counseling to support groups.

Clinical Trials

UT Southwestern participates in clinical trials to test the efficacy and safety of new treatments for esophageal cancer. Patients who take part in these trials can access therapies not yet available elsewhere. Ask your doctor if you are eligible to participate in one of our esophageal cancer trials.

Meet the Team

Request an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a specialist in the treatment of esophageal cancer, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.