Feeding Tubes and Radiation for Esophageal Cancer

Last Modified: May 7, 2012


I had a consult with a radiation doctor for esophageal cancer. He said I need a feeding tube. That seemed kind of premature to me- do I really need that?


Liz Prechtel-Dunphy, Oncology Nurse Practitioner at Penn Medicine, responds:

Feeding tubes are important in patients with esophageal cancer whether they are getting single modality radiation or chemo-radiation. Often times patients experience esophagitis as a result of the treatment whether that be radiation therapy alone or chemo-radiation that prevents them from receiving adequate nutrition, hydration and maintaining their weight during the course of therapy.


Katrina Claghorn, Registered Dietician at Penn Medicine, adds:

You should ask your doctor why he felt you needed the feeding tube and what type of feeding tube he recommends.

Some surgeons place a feeding tube into the small intestine during surgery because they are concerned that it will be difficult for the patient to meet his nutritional needs with a smaller stomach. In addition if the patient will be receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy, which may further limit their ability to eat enough, a feeding tube may be beneficial since it will help them meet their nutritional goal.

Sometimes a tube into the stomach is placed if the patient isn't going to have surgery. This type of tube, called a PEG, would have the same purpose to help the patient meet their nutritional needs when receiving treatment.

The reason a feeding tube is suggested prior to treatment is that it may be more difficult to place the feeding tube once treatment has started.

So find out why your doctor is suggesting the tube and request a meeting with a Registered Dietitian who can answer your questions about what to expect with the feeding tube.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat Series. View the entire transcript from the Focus on GI Cancers webchat.


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