Esophageal Cancer Program

Esophageal cancer, or cancer of the esophagus, forms in the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. About 13,000 men and 3,500 women are diagnosed with this condition every year.

There are Two Main Types of Esophageal Cancer:

  1. Adenocarcinoma: More common of the two. Usually located in the lower part of the esophagus and close to the stomach. Occurs most commonly in Caucasians and people who have gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)

  2. Squamous cell carcinoma: Usually located in the upper part of the esophagus. Occurs most commonly in African Americans and people who smoke cigarettes and drink heavily.

Treatment Plans May Include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Clinical trials
  • Electrocoagualtion: Uses electric current to destroy cancer cells
  • Laser therapy: Uses high-intensity light to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy: External or internal beam
  • Surgery
    • Esophagectomy: Removal of part or all of the esophagus
    • Stent placement: Tube made of a metal mesh or plastic is inserted by a doctor to open a blocked area, allowing food and liquids to move freely into the stomach  


Why Choose Holden for Your Care?

Patients of Holden Cancer Center benefit from a team-based approach that puts each patient at the center. At Holden, experts in specific cancer types—including a genetic counselor certified and specializing in cancer genetic counseling—is part of this team.

Holden patients also benefit from medical advances that take into account an individual’s tumor, genes, environment, and lifestyle to diagnose and treat their specific types of cancer. Known as personalized, or precision medicine, this highly specialized approach is part of Holden’s commitment to providing life-changing medical treatments and care.

"Comprehensive" NCI Designation

To be considered a “comprehensive” center means our teams have expertise in clinical, laboratory, and population-based research. Our doctors and staff are on top of the newest developments in cancer research, treatment, and diagnosis. Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only institution in Iowa to hold the prestigious designation of being a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), meaning we are rated in the top 4 percent of the approximately 1,500 cancer centers in the United States. A recent study published in the journal Cancer showed that patients treated at NCI-designated cancer centers have better survival outcomes than patients treated at non–NCI-designated cancer centers.

Services That Set Us Apart

  • Genetics of tumors: We look at the genetics of your cancer cells to find the treatment that will work best for you. This is known as molecular profiling and it's done primarily in-house, giving you shorter turnaround times and direct access to the experts.
  • New infusion suite designed with patients in mind. Our infusion suite was designed with patient input to create a comfortable, welcoming environment for chemotherapy treatments. Take our virtual tour.
  • Outstanding outcomes and very low complication rates treating esophageal cancer: We see a large number of esophageal cancer patients, giving us the practice we need for the best outcomes.
  • Our clinical trials give you early access to the most recent, advanced treatment options. This may include drugs not yet on the market and other treatments under development that have the potential to increase survival rates and improve quality of life.
  • Shorter recovery: Our cancer surgeons are experts in the use of minimally invasive and endoscopic surgical techniques to treat esophageal cancer, which means faster recovery. We have one of the nation's shortest length of stays after esophageal cancer surgery, often just five or six days.

The Power of Clinical Trials

Clinical trials is where research meets patient care. A great deal of research is done behind the scenes in laboratories, long before clinical trials can even begin. Clinical trials are research studies that test out the latest treatments and drugs that are not yet available to the public. These new treatments have the potential to improve your quality of life or increase your chances of survival.

Currently enrolling: Two studies are currently open that are testing different methods of chemotherapy to try to decrease the risk of esophageal cancer returning. These are meant for patients who have had chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed by surgery to treat esophageal cancer.

See a full list and learn more about clinical trials at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Support Our Mission

Our work is made possible in part by the support of donors through charitable giving. Friends of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center can become partners in the effort to control and ultimately cure cancer. Learn how you can help us make a difference for cancer patients.

Esophageal Cancer Multidisciplinary Team

We bring experts from different fields of medicine to work together as a team called a multidisciplinary oncology group. Because many patients require more than one form of treatment, our team meets regularly to discuss the best course of treatment and works together to design the best personalized plan for every patient. The team, along with others on your care team, includes radiologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, social workers, pathologists, pharmacists, nurses, and laboratory-based scientists. In fact, the only two general thoracic surgeons in the state practice here.

Our team of specialists focuses not just on esophageal cancer, but on your esophageal cancer. That means our team of experts will design a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs – we don’t believe in “one size fits all.” We will walk you through everything you need to know, including symptoms, treatments, and prognosis.

We know no one wants to stay in the hospital longer than necessary, so we work especially hard to make sure your treatment options are done on an outpatient basis, allowing you to rest in the comfort of your own home.

Research Nurses

  • Michelle Arnold, RN
  • Susan Butcher, RN
  • Erin Kauffman, RN
  • Mary Schall, RN
  • Pam Zehr, RN