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Chemotherapy uses anticancer, or cytotoxic, drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy is commonly used to treat esophageal cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.
Chemotherapy for esophageal cancer is usually a systemic therapy. Most chemotherapy drugs are given as an injection into a vein (intravenous, or IV). The drugs then travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the esophagus.
Chemotherapy may be used in the following ways to treat esophageal cancer.
Chemotherapy is often used as part of chemoradiation to treat esophageal cancer. Chemoradiation is treatment that combines chemotherapy with radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is given during the same time period as radiation therapy.
Primary chemoradiation means that chemoradiation is given as the main treatment. It may be offered if you can’t have surgery, or you choose not to have surgery. Surgery may not be possible because the tumour cannot be removed (is unresectable) or you aren’t healthy enough to have surgery.
Common combinations of chemotherapy drugs used as a part of primary chemoradiation to treat esophageal cancer are:
Other combinations of drugs used in primary chemoradiation include:
Neoadjuvant chemoradiation is chemotherapy given along with radiation therapy to shrink a tumour before surgery.
Common combinations of chemotherapy drugs used as part of neoadjuvant chemoradiation to treat esophageal cancer are:
Other combinations of drugs used in neoadjuvant chemoradiation include:
Chemotherapy may be used alone to treat esophageal cancer. It may be given before surgery (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy) and after surgery (called adjuvant chemotherapy), or it may be the main treatment given (primary chemotherapy).
Chemotherapy can be used to treat adenocarcinoma of the esophagus. As neoadjuvant chemotherapy, it is given to shrink an adenocarcinoma before surgery. It is given again after surgery as adjuvant chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells left behind and lower the risk that cancer will come back, or recur.
The most common combinations of drugs used in neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapy for adenocarcinoma are:
Primary chemotherapy means that chemotherapy is given as the main treatment. It may be used for stage IV esophageal cancer or if you aren’t healthy enough to have surgery or chemoradiation.
Sometimes chemotherapy is given alone to relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced esophageal cancer. This is called palliative chemotherapy.
The following are the first, most common or preferred combinations of drugs used in primary chemotherapy for esophageal cancer:
Other drug combinations that may be used for first-line chemotherapy include:
The following drugs or combinations of drugs may be used in primary chemotherapy for esophageal cancer if the first-line chemotherapy drugs don’t work or stop working:
Other drugs or combinations of drugs that may be used as second-line chemotherapy are:
Details on specific drugs change quite regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.
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For more than 50 years, the Canadian Cancer Society’s transportation program has enabled patients to focus their energy on fighting cancer and not on worrying about how they will get to treatment.