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Esophageal cancer

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Follow-up after treatment for esophageal cancer

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. Follow-up for esophageal cancer is often shared among medical, radiation and surgical oncologists. Usually, a dietitian is also involved in follow-up care to make sure that you get enough nutrition. Your healthcare team will work with you to decide on follow-up care to meet your needs.

Don’t wait until your next scheduled appointment to report any new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away. Tell your healthcare team if you have:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • weight loss
  • pain in the chest or back

The chance of esophageal cancer recurring is greatest within 2 years, so close follow-up is needed during this time.

Schedule for follow-up visits

Follow-up visits for esophageal cancer are different for each person. Follow-up visits may include:

  • health history and physical exam every 3–6 months for 1–2 years, then every 6–12 months for 3–5 years, then once each year
  • blood tests and imaging as needed

During follow-up visits

During a follow-up visit, your healthcare team will usually ask questions about the side effects of treatment, how you’re coping and if you are having any nutrition problems. Your doctor will do a complete physical exam.

If you have had surgery, radiation therapy or photodynamic therapy, you may have narrowing, or stricture, in the esophagus. Your doctor may need to do esophageal dilation regularly to help keep the esophagus open so you can swallow food and liquids.

Your doctor may order the following tests and procedures as part of follow-up or to find out if the cancer has come back, or recurred.

Complete blood count (CBC) may be done to check for anemia, which may suggest bleeding from a tumour.

Blood chemistry tests, including liver and kidney function tests, may be done to see if the esophageal cancer has spread to these organs.

Endoscopy may be done if you had endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR). Endoscopy is used to check the treated area to see if the cancer has come back.

Imaging tests, such as upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, CT scan and ultrasound, may be done to check for recurrence.

If a recurrence is found during follow-up, your healthcare team will assess you to determine the best treatment options.

Questions to ask about follow-up

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about follow-up.

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