Having oesophageal cancer can have a big impact on your life, but support is available to help you cope.

This page has information and advice about:

Eating and swallowing

Support and advice

Work

Money and benefits

Palliative care

Caring for someone with cancer

Eating and swallowing

You may have swallowing difficulties during and after treatment for oesophageal cancer.

There are treatments that can help – including surgery to place a hollow tube (stent) in your oesophagus, or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy – although they may not work immediately.

You might need to have a temporary feeding tube placed or fluids given through a drip inserted in a vein to begin with, before moving onto fluids by mouth and soft foods. You may eventually be able to eat solid food.

A speech and language therapist can assess your ability to swallow and suggest ways to overcome any problems. A dietitian can also help with any changes you need to make to your diet.

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Support and advice

Coping with a diagnosis of cancer can be very difficult. You may find it helpful to:

  • Talk to your friends and family – be open about how you feel and what your family and friends can do to help may put you and them at ease.
  • Communicate with others in the same situation – you may want to contact a local support group or join a forum such as the HealthUnlocked forum for oesophageal patients or Cancer Chat.
  • Find out more about your condition – check websites such as Cancer Research UK or Macmillan, or speak to your care team or GP if you have any questions about your condition.
  • Take time out for yourself – don't feel shy about telling friends and family if you want some time to yourself.

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Work

Having oesophageal cancer doesn't necessarily mean you'll have to give up work, although you may need quite a lot of time off. During treatment, you may not be able to carry on as you did before.

If you have cancer, you're covered by the Disability Discrimination Act. This means that your employer isn't allowed to discriminate against you because of your illness.

They have a duty to make "reasonable adjustments" to help you cope, such as:

  • allowing you time off for treatment and medical appointments
  • allowing flexibility with working hours, the tasks you have to perform, or your working environment

You should give your employer as much information as possible about how much time you'll need off and when. Speak to a member of your human resources department, if you have one.

If you're having difficulties with your employer you may be able to get help from your union, association representative or local Citizens Advice Bureau.

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Money and benefits

If you have to reduce or stop work because of your cancer, you may find it difficult to cope financially. You may be entitled to financial support:

  • if you have a job but can't work because of your illness, you're entitled to Statutory Sick Pay from your employer
  • if you don't have a job and can't work because of your illness, you may be entitled to Employment and Support Allowance
  • if you're caring for someone with cancer, you may be entitled to Carer's Allowance
  • you may be eligible for other benefits if you have children living at home or you have a low household income

It's a good idea to find out what help is available as soon as possible. You could ask to speak to the social worker at your hospital, who can give you the information you need.

Free prescriptions

People being treated for cancer are entitled to apply for an exemption certificate giving free prescriptions for all medication, including treatments for unrelated conditions.

The certificate is valid for five years. You can apply for a certificate by speaking to your GP or cancer specialist.

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Palliative care

If you're told there is nothing more that can be done to treat your oesophageal cancer or you decide to decline treatment, your GP or care team will provide you with support and pain relief. This is called palliative care.

You can choose to receive palliative care:

  • at home
  • in a care home
  • in hospital 
  • in a hospice

Your doctor or care team should work with you to establish a clear plan based on your wishes.

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Caring for someone with cancer

Being a carer isn't easy. It can be emotionally and physically draining, and make it easy for you to forget your own health and mental wellbeing.

But putting yourself last doesn't work in the long-term. If you're caring for someone else, it's important to look after yourself and get as much help as possible.

It's in your best interests, as well as those of the person you are caring for.

Read more about getting caring support and carers' breaks and respite care.

Page last reviewed: 04/07/2016

Next review due: 04/07/2019