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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Esophageal Cancer

Lifestyle changes can help:

  • Strengthen your body so that you can withstand some of the rigors of treatment.
  • Optimize the function of your immune system to aid in the fight against cancer.
  • Improve your emotional outlook, so you can enjoy life to the fullest, even during treatment for esophageal cancer.
  • Avoid other medical problems that could complicate your health.

General Guidelines

  • Quit smoking
  • Nutritional support
  • Reduce your risk of infection
  • Exercise regularly
  • Manage fatigue
  • Seek support
  • Comfort measures

Quit Smoking

Smoking increases the risk of complications from medical procedures and slows tissue healing. It can also cause further irritation to the esophagus, which may be very irritated from treatments.

When you quit smoking, the body immediately begins to repair itself. Quitting will help boost your immune system to help fight the cancer and improve recovery from treatment. It will also reduce your risk of future cancers.

Nutritional Support

A good diet can affect your overall health, energy, mood, and ability to recover. Unfortunately, treatment of the cancer itself may decrease your appetite or make it difficult to eat. Consult with a registered dietitian (RD) about meal planning. Meal planning is an important step in helping you get the most nutrition out of your foods, and stop or slow unintended weight loss.

Esophageal cancer and treatments may make it difficult to swallow. A feeding tube may be needed to help deliver nutrition. The 2 options include a jejunostomy tube (J-tube) or a gastrostomy tube (G-tube). They allow nutritional mixes to be delivered directly to the stomach.

Reduce Your Risk of Infection

Cancer and its treatments suppress the body's immune system. This can increase the risk of infection, or increase the severity of common infections, like a cold or the flu. To decrease the risk of infection while going through cancer treatment:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. Hand washing is the most effective method of decreasing the chance of catching colds and flu. Carry hand sanitizer for times when washing is not convenient.
  • Try to avoid crowds, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Avoid touching eyes, mouth, and nose to after coming in contact with surfaces or objects.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects often.
  • Ask your doctor about immunization against the flu and pneumonia.

Exercise Regularly

If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor to choose safe exercises. Exercise has many benefits that may help you withstand the physical and emotional stresses of cancer and cancer treatment including:

  • Promoting overall fitness
  • Boosting your energy level
  • Improving your immune system
  • Boosting your spirits and improving your emotional outlook

It is important to balance rest and activities to prevent becoming too tired. Consider talking to a trainer who can help with designing an exercise program.

Manage Fatigue

Fatigue is the most frequently experienced symptom of cancer and cancer treatments. This is especially true with esophageal cancer. To help avoid getting overtired, prioritize tasks and focus on the most important ones. It is important to allow others to help you with daily chores, shopping, and preparing meals. If needed, plan time throughout the day for rest.

Fatigue will also be more pronounced without proper nutrition. Talk to your doctor if fatigue is affecting quality of life.

Seek Support

The diagnosis of cancer is a life-defining event that can be difficult to handle. Facing the uncertainty of a serious disease, feeling anxious about how you will feel during treatment, lifestyle changes, and worrying about the impact of both the diagnosis and treatment can be overwhelming. It is important to rely on family, friends, and other people in your life. People who allow themselves to seek help while they are recovering from cancer can often maintain better emotional balance. Other sources of support include:

  • Religious community
  • Support groups for people with your type of cancer
  • Professional support from social workers, psychologists, and/or psychiatrists who are trained to help support cancer patients and their families

Family and caregivers may also need support. Encourage them to seek support groups or counseling geared toward them.

Comfort Measures

Esophageal cancer is especially difficult because it is usually found in advanced stages, making it harder to treat. Some people choose treatments to ease cancer complications or choose to stop treatment completely. Depending on your circumstances, it may be realistic to begin end-of-life planning. Considerations may include:

  • Choosing home or hospice care
  • Financial decisions
  • Advance directives—includes legal issues, like wills, hospital orders for your care, and power of attorney for medical care and finances
  • Insurance coverage

If you need guidance, talk to a member of your healthcare team. You can be referred to a trained professional to guide you through the process.

Revision Information

  • Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114816/Esophageal-and-esophagogastric-junction-cancer. Updated January 18, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.

  • Esophageal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/esophageal-cancer. Updated July 2014. Accessed December 17, 2015.

  • Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003098-pdf.pdf. Accessed December 17, 2015.

  • Nearing the end of life. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/treatment/nearingtheendoflife/nearingtheendoflife/index. Accessed December 17, 2015.

  • Treatment option overview. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/patient/esophageal-treatment-pdq#section/%5F159. Updated December 17, 2015. Accessed December 17, 2015.