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Discharge Instructions After Treatment for Cancer of the Esophagus

You have been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, the abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the esophagus. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy can all play a major role in the treatment of this disease. You discussed your treatment plan with your healthcare provider in detail. This sheet will help you remember how to care for yourself after surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Home care after surgery

Here’s what to do at home following surgery for esophageal cancer:

  • Follow the diet prescribed by your healthcare provider.

  • Check your incision site daily for 7 days after discharge. Change the dressing according to the directions you were given.

  • Use pain medicines as necessary.

  • Don’t drive until you are free of pain and no longer taking opioid pain medicines. This may take 2 to 4 weeks.

  • Plan frequent rest periods to avoid shortness of breath.

  • Do deep breathing and controlled coughing exercises. Ask your healthcare provider for guidelines.

  • If you smoke, do your best to break the habit:

    • Enroll in a stop-smoking program to increase your chances of success.

    • Ask your healthcare provider about medicines or other methods to help you quit.

    • Ask family members to quit smoking as well.

    • Don’t allow smoking in your home or around you.

Home care after chemotherapy

Here’s what to do at home following chemotherapy for esophageal cancer. 

Prevent or manage mouth sores

Many people get mouth sores during chemotherapy. So don’t be discouraged if you do, even if you are following all your healthcare provider’s instructions. Do the following to help prevent mouth sores or to ease discomfort:

  • Brush your teeth with a soft-bristle toothbrush after every meal.

  • Don’t use dental floss if your platelet count is low, which increases your risk of bleeding. Your healthcare provider will tell you if this is the case.

  • Use an oral swab or special soft toothbrush if your gums bleed during regular brushing.

  • Use any mouthwashes given to you as directed.

  • If you can’t tolerate regular methods, use salt and baking soda to clean your mouth. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of baking soda into an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Swish and spit.

  • Watch your mouth and tongue for white patches. This can be a sign of fungal infection, a common side effect of chemotherapy. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider about these patches. Medicine can be prescribed to help you fight the fungal infection.

Manage other side effects

Suggestions include the following:

  • Try to exercise. Exercise keeps you strong and keeps your heart and lungs active. Walk as much as you can without becoming dizzy or weak.

  • Let your healthcare provider know if your throat is sore. You may have an infection that needs treatment.

  • Remember, many patients feel sick and lose their appetite during treatment. Eat small meals several times a day to keep your strength up.

    • Choose bland foods with little taste or smell if you are reacting strongly to food.

    • Be sure to cook all food thoroughly. This kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection.

    • Eat foods that are soft. They are less likely to cause stomach irritation.

  • Keep clean. During treatment, your body can’t fight germs very well.

    • Take short baths or showers with warm water. Avoid very hot or cold water.

    • Use moisturizing soap. Treatment can make your skin dry.

    • Apply moisturizing lotion several times a day to help relieve dry skin.

Home care after radiation therapy

Here’s what to do at home following radiation therapy for esophageal cancer.

Skin care 

Do's and don'ts include:

  • Don’t scrub the treated area.

  • Ask your therapy team which lotion to use.

  • Avoid sun on the treated area. Ask your therapy team about using a sunscreen.

  • Don’t remove ink marks unless your radiation therapist says it’s OK. Don’t scrub or use soap on the marks when you wash. Let water run over them and pat them dry.

  • Protect your skin from heat or cold. Avoid hot tubs, saunas, heating pads, and ice packs.

  • Wear soft, loose clothing to avoid rubbing your skin.

Other home care

Tips include:

  • Stock up on easy-to-prepare foods.

  • Eat foods high in protein and calories.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids, unless directed otherwise.

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any vitamins.

  • Be prepared for hair loss and sunburn-like skin irritation in the area being treated.

  • If your mouth or throat becomes dry or sore, sip cool water. Ice chips may also help.


Make a follow-up appointment as directed by our staff.


When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or chills

  • Signs of infection around the incision (redness, drainage, warmth, pain)

  • Shortness of breath, especially without exertion

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Incision that opens up or pulls apart

  • Trouble concentrating

  • Ongoing fatigue

  • Rapid, irregular heartbeat; chest pain

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Constant feeling of being cold

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

  • Persistent diarrhea

Note: If you ever have trouble breathing, call 911 (emergency) right away.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: LoCicero, Richard, MD
Last Review Date: 5/1/2016
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