Radiation-Induced Esophagitis

Radiation-induced esophagitis is an injury to the esophagus caused by radiation therapy designed to treat cancer.

The injury can take the forms of:

  • Stricture or narrowing of the esophagus
  • Perforation or rupture
  • Fistula or a hole in the tissue

In some cases, radiation-sensitizing drugs designed to make cancer cells more susceptible to the radiation therapy, can also worsen the radiation damage to the esophagus.

Symptoms of Radiation-Induced Esophagitis

The symptoms of radiation-induced esophagitis are:

  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Pain during swallowing
  • Vomiting food or blood
  • Chest pain
  • Inflammation of the esophageal lining


Your doctor may perform the following tests to diagnose radiation-induced esophagitis:

  • Endoscopy
  • Barium swallow test

The tell-tale sign of this form of esophagitis is inflammation.

Treatment of Radiation-Induced Esophagitis

If eating or drinking difficulty is present, then a temporary feeding tube to the stomach or an intravenous line may be inserted until the injury heals.

Otherwise, treatment for radiation-induced esophagitis depends on the type of injury:

  • Stricture
    This abnormal narrowing of the esophagus can be treated by manual dilation or enlargement by:

    • Bougie
      A bougie (“boojie”) is rubber device used to flatten the lining of the esophagus and to enlarge its opening.

    • Pneumatic dilator
      A balloon is placed and inflated to enlarge the narrowed portion of the esophagus.

    • Guided wire dilator
      During an endoscopic procedure, a tapered device is threaded through the esophagus by using a guided wire

  • Perforation and fistula
    Surgery may be required to treat these injuries

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