by Scholten A

Esophageal cancer is treated with different types of drugs. Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells. Targeted therapy drugs are used to keep cancer cells from growing.


To treat esophageal cancer, chemotherapy is often used with radiation. It may be given before or after surgery.

Chemotherapy Drugs and Delivery

There are many chemotherapy drugs. To treat this type of cancer, the drugs are often combined. They may include:

  • Fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • Cisplatin
  • Docetaxel
  • Paclitaxel
  • Epirubicin
  • Capecitabine
  • Carboplatin
  • Irinotecan
  • Methotrexate
  • Mitomycin
  • Vinorelbine
  • Oxaliplatin

Chemotherapy is often given through an IV. Some types can be given by mouth. It is given in cycles over a set period of time. A cancer doctor decides the number of cycles and types of drugs.

Side Effects

The drugs kill cancer cells. However, they can affect healthy cells too. This can cause a range of side effects. The cancer doctor will work to find the best drugs and dosage. The goal is to get rid of the cancer cells and reduce side effects. Side effects may include:

  • A feeling of numbness, pain, or burning in the hands and feet—peripheral neuropathy
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Being tired due to anemia
  • Confusion and memory problems
  • More weight loss
  • Hearing loss
  • Kidney, liver, and/or heart damage

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy drugs do not harm healthy cells. For esophageal cancer, options include trastuzumab and ramucirumab.

Trastuzumab may be used with chemotherapy. It may help stop tumor growth in certain types of esophageal cancer. Side effects may be fever, weakness, nausea, diarrhea, and headache. It is sometimes linked to heart muscle damage.

Ramucirumab stops new blood vessels from growing. This is used to stop tumor growth. Common side effects are headache, high blood pressure, and diarrhea. Wound healing problems can be a serious side effect.

Managing Side Effects

A number of treatments can help manage side effects. They include medicine, lifestyle changes, and alternative treatments. Sometimes drugs are adjusted to reduce severe side effects. It is best to control side effects as soon as possible.


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Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at Accessed March 15, 2021.

Short MW, Burgers KG, et al. Esophageal Cancer. Am Fam Physician. 2017;95(1):22-28.

Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: Accessed March 15, 2021.

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