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Chemotherapy for Esophageal Cancer

How often you get chemotherapy treatments depends on the drug or drugs you take. The type of chemotherapy you get often depends on the size of your tumor and how fast it is spreading.

You may take the drug in pill form. Or you may get it by an intravenous drip, which is a needle attached to a tube that allows the drugs to drip slowly into your veins. If you have the drug given intravenously, you will have to go to a doctor's office or an outpatient clinic. Getting these drugs can take several hours.

Chemotherapy is given in cycles. This means you will be treated for a period of time with chemotherapy and then have a rest period. Each treatment and rest period make up one cycle. You’ll likely have more than one cycle of treatment. Your doctor will explain what your treatment plan will be and what you can expect. The length of each treatment period differs depending on the type of drug you take.

Many drugs are being tested in clinical trials to see if they can help people with esophageal cancer. Ask your doctor if you could benefit from participating in any of them.

What to expect after chemotherapy

The side effects of chemotherapy are different for everyone. They depend on these things:

  • Type of drug you're taking

  • How often you take it

  • How long your treatment lasts

Your medical oncologist and chemotherapy nurse will talk with you about possible side effects with your treatment.

Here are some typical side effects for the most commonly used chemotherapy drugs for esophageal cancer. You should talk with your health care team about which ones are most likely to happen for you:

  • Appetite loss

  • Blood clots

  • Bruising or bleeding easily

  • Diarrhea or upset stomach

  • Dry skin

  • Fatigue

  • Fluid retention

  • Hair loss

  • Heart side effects (rarely)

  • Infections

  • Mouth sores

  • Nausea, with or without vomiting

  • Reduced counts of white cells, red cells, or platelets, as noted by blood tests

  • Taste changes

  • Thick and discolored nails

  • Tingling or numbness in hands and feet

  • Weight loss or gain

Most of these side effects will likely go away during rest periods between treatments and after your treatment ends, although some may last longer. Ask your doctor for ways to ease these side effects. For instance, there are drugs that ease nausea and vomiting. 


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