Palliation of malignant dysphagia in esophageal cancer: a literature-based review

J Support Oncol. 2006 Sep;4(8):365-73, 379.


Esophageal cancer is a lethal malignancy and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is increasing in incidence. Most patients present with locally advanced, unresectable or metastatic disease. The 5-year survival rate of patients with esophageal cancer is < 20%. Dysphagia is the most common presenting symptom of this disease and leads to nutritional compromise, pain, and deterioration of quality of life. Palliation is an important goal of esophageal cancer therapy. Severity is commonly measured using a dysphagia grade, and dysphagia is an integral component of quality-of-life instruments, such as FACT-E and EORTC-OES 24. Investigation of dysphagia includes radiographic studies such as barium or Gastrografin swallow, esophagogastroduodenoscopy, endoscopic ultrasonography, and other staging studies for esophageal cancer. Current management options for the palliation of dysphagia include esophageal dilatation, intraluminal stents, Nd:YAG laser therapy, photodynamic therapy, argon laser, systemic chemotherapy, external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy, and combined chemoradiation therapy. The clinical situation, local expertise, and cost effectiveness play an important role in choosing the appropriate treatment modality. The benefits and disadvantages of these approaches along with a concise review of the literature are presented.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenocarcinoma / complications*
  • Adenocarcinoma / therapy*
  • Deglutition Disorders / etiology*
  • Deglutition Disorders / therapy*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / complications*
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / methods*