Esophageal Blockage

Author: Marisa Healy, BSN, RN
Last Reviewed: August 04, 2022

What is an esophageal blockage?

The esophagus is a long muscular tube (about 9 inches long) that connects your mouth to your stomach. An esophageal blockage is when there is a narrowing of your esophagus, which causes a blockage. This blockage may be caused by cancer. When diagnosed with esophageal cancer, you may have trouble swallowing because the tumor can block the esophagus. Having trouble with swallowing can make it very hard, if not impossible, to eat food by mouth. You may also be at a greater risk for aspiration or when food “goes down the wrong pipe,” and gets into your lungs.

How is an esophageal blockage managed?

There are a few ways to treat an esophageal blockage. The goal is to get you back to being able to eat and drink. Some treatments are:

  • Stent: A tube made of metal mesh or plastic is placed in your esophagus. This tube widens the area that was compressed (pushed in). This gives you a clear passage for food and drinks to pass through.
  • Laser therapy: A laser is used to destroy the cancer cells blocking the esophagus. Laser therapy may make swallowing easier for a while, but you may need to repeat the treatment a few weeks later.
  • Photodynamic therapy: A special medication is given that collects in the esophageal cancer cells. Two days after the injection, your provider will use an endoscope to shine a special light (like a laser) on the cancer. The drug becomes active when exposed to light and kills the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy can help shrink the tumor.
  • Balloon dilation: A tube is placed through the blocked part of the esophagus. A balloon helps widen the opening. This method helps with swallowing for a short time.

When should I call my care team?

If you are having a hard time swallowing, eating, or drinking, or if you are coughing while eating, call your care team for testing.


American Cancer Society. Palliative Treatment for Esophageal Cancer. 2017. Found at:


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