What you need to know about Esophageal Cancer Surgery
Esophageal cancer occurs anywhere along the esophagus (the long and hollow tube that runs from the throat to the stomach). Surgery for esophageal cancer is often used to try to remove cancer and some of the normal tissue that surrounds it for some earlier stage cancers. In some cases, the surgery may be combined with other types of treatment, such as radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.
What Does the Procedure Involve?
Esophageal cancer surgery is performed under general anesthesia. The surgery is done using the standard open technique in which your surgeon makes one large incision in the chest or abdomen, or minimally invasive where your surgeon makes several small incisions. During the surgery, your surgeon will try to remove the tumor and some healthy tissue that surrounds it or removes some or most of the esophagus (esophagectomy). In some cases, a small upper portion of your stomach is removed as well (esophagogastrectomy).
How Long Should You Stay in the Country?
You will be staying 7 to 10 days in the hospital following the surgery, but plan to stay in the country for 10 to 14 additional days after you are discharged from the hospital. During your stay in the country, you will be under a close monitor of your surgeon. Stitches are usually removed within 14 days.
How Long is the Recovery Time?
Esophageal cancer surgery is not a simple procedure, therefore, it may require long recovery time. You should not do any strenuous activity (including intense exercise and heavy lifting) for about 8 weeks after the surgery and you will need tube feeding (enteral nutrition) for 4 to 6 weeks to ensure adequate nutrition. Talk to your doctor about your recovery timeline, including when you can return to work and resume your daily activities.
What Aftercare Should You Consider?
Since your stomach size is likely reduced after the surgery, you need to adjust your diet and eat more frequently in smaller quantities. Your doctor may recommend follow-up care to prevent complications, including lung therapy, nutritional assessments, pain management, and psychosocial care. You also need to attend regular follow-up checkups to make sure the tumor has not returned and there are no new tumor growths.
What is the Success Rate of Esophageal Cancer Surgery?
Surgery for esophageal cancer is known to be highly successful. Patients who undergo surgery are more likely to survive long term than those who did not. However, like all serious operations, esophageal cancer surgery has some side effects and risks, including lung complications, voice changes, infection, bleeding, cough, leakage from the surgical connection of the stomach and the esophagus, acid or bile reflux, dysphagia, and reaction to anesthesia.
Are there Alternatives to Esophageal Cancer Surgery Procedure?
In some cases, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy (to kill cancer cells using drugs) or radiation therapy (to kill cancer cells using high-powered X-ray beams) along with or instead of surgery. Make sure to discuss with your doctor, the best option for you as well as the risk and benefit of each procedure.
What Should You Expect Before and After the Procedure?
Esophageal cancer causes symptoms such as dysphagia, unintentional weight loss, chest pain, heartburn, coughing, and hoarseness. It may interfere with your ability to perform your daily activities and it can lead to dangerous complications. After the surgery, some of your symptoms should be relieved and your quality of life will be improved significantly.
For an in-depth analysis of Esophagus Cancer (adenocarcinoma), watch this short video.
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