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What Happens During Surgery for Esophageal Cancer

What happens during surgery depends on the type of surgery you are having. The type of surgery also affects where you have incisions. The surgeon may make an incision in your chest, your abdomen, or your neck. Sometimes, you may need more than one incision. You may be able to have the surgery using a laparoscope, which is a tool that helps your doctor see inside you. If you are able to have laparoscopic surgery, your incisions may be smaller.

These are the main types of surgery for esophageal cancer. For both types of surgery, you are first given anesthesia, a drug that makes you fall asleep and not feel pain.

  • Esophagectomy. For this surgery, the surgeon takes out part of the esophagus.

  • Esophagogastrectomy. For this surgery, the surgeon takes out part of the esophagus and part of the upper stomach.

What Happens During Esophagectomy

This is the main type of surgery to treat esophageal cancer. It is done for people who have early stage esophageal cancer that has not spread to the stomach. For it, the surgeon removes the following:

  • The part of your esophagus that contains the cancer, which is usually the upper part, up to the stomach

  • Lymph nodes that are near your esophagus

If you have squamous cell cancer, the surgeon may need to remove a larger part of your esophagus because the cancer tends to start in the middle and upper parts of the esophagus.

After taking out part of your esophagus , the surgeon reconnects the parts that remain. Or your surgeon reconnects your esophagus to your stomach. Sometimes the surgeon must use a plastic tube or part of your intestine to join the parts together.

The doctor sends the removed lymph nodes to a pathologist to see if they contain cancer. If they do, the cancer has spread.

What Happens During Esophagogastrectomy

Your doctor will recommend this surgery if the cancer is at the lower end of your esophagus or has spread to your stomach. For it, the surgeon removes the following:

  • The part of the esophagus with the cancer, which is usually the lower part of the esophagus

  • The upper part of your stomach, next to your esophagus

  • Lymph nodes that are near your esophagus

In some cases, all of the tumor cannot be removed and it continues to block the esophagus. The surgeon may insert a metal tube called a stent inside your esophagus. The stent helps keep your esophagus open.

The doctor sends the removed lymph nodes to a pathologist to see if they contain cancer. If they do, the cancer has spread.