There are a wide variety of palliative treatments for esophageal cancer. The aim of most treatments is to maintain oral food intake, which should stabilize or even improve quality of life. Stent placement is currently the most widely used treatment modality for palliation of dysphagia from esophageal cancer. Stent placement offers a rapid relief of dysphagia, however, the rate of complications (late hemorrhage) and recurrent dysphagia (stent migration, tumor overgrowth) is relatively high. The scientific evidence to advocate the use of anti-reflux stents for the prevention of gastroesophageal reflux is currently too low. Photodynamic therapy is mostly used in North America; however, due to the high costs of the treatment, the long-lasting side effects and the necessity of repeated treatments, it is not an ideal treatment for palliation of malignant dysphagia. Nd:YAG laser is a relatively effective and safe treatment modality, although laser treatment is also expensive, technically difficult and requiring repeated treatment sessions at 4-6 weeks intervals. Single dose brachytherapy compares favorably to stent placement in long-term effectiveness and safety. Effective treatment strategies are probably 12 Gy given in one fraction or 16 Gy given in two fractions. Palliative chemotherapy offers response rates in recent trials (including partial and complete responses) ranging from 35% to 50%. Whether palliative chemotherapy also results in a survival benefit is not established yet. For clinical trials on palliation of esophageal cancer, the measurement of quality of life is an important outcome measure. The cancer-specific EORTC QLQ-C30 and the esophageal cancer-specific EORTC-OES-18 are validated measures for establishing quality of life status. For the future, a multimodality approach with stent placement or brachytherapy in combination with chemotherapy may be indicated.

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Journal of Surgical Oncology
Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology

Homs, M.Y.V, Kuipers, E.J, & Siersema, P.D. (2005). Palliative therapy. Journal of Surgical Oncology (Vol. 92, pp. 246–256). doi:10.1002/jso.20366