Esophageal Blockage

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed:

What is an esophageal blockage?

An esophageal blockage is when there is a narrowing of your esophagus, which can 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 several treatment options used to help manage esophageal blockage. These aim to restore your ability to eat and drink.

  • Stent: A tube made of metal mesh or plastic is placed in your esophagus. This tube expands the area that was compressed and allows a clear passageway for food and liquid 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 several weeks later.
  • Photodynamic therapy: A special medication is given that collects in the esophageal cancer cells. Two days after the injection, the doctor uses an endoscope to shine a special light (such as a laser) on the cancer. The drug becomes active when exposed to light and directly kills the cancer cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy can help shrink the tumor.
  • Balloon dilation: A tube is inserted 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 difficulty swallowing, coughing while eating, or having a hard time eating/drinking, call your care team for evaluation.

References

American Cancer Society. Palliative Treatment for Esophageal Cancer. 2017. Found at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/esophagus-cancer/treating/palliative-therapy.html

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