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Surgery of the Esophagus

The esophagus is a tube that leads from the mouth, through the chest area and to the stomach. When the esophagus does not work properly or someone has cancer of the esophagus, patients can rely on the surgeons at REX Thoracic Surgical Specialists for the most advanced treatments available.

Our thoracic surgeons have extra training and experience with all types of surgery of the esophagus. This includes surgery for heartburn, or "GERD," as well as other conditions. Our specialists even perform an advanced procedure to remove the esophagus entirely and replace it with part of the stomach-a rare but effective surgery that some patients need.

Hear from our patients: At REX Thoracic Surgical Specialists, Nell and her entire family found a team they could trust to see her through cancer of the esophagus.

Our patients

  • Some of our patients need surgery to correct swallowing problems, when food and liquid don't travel from the mouth to the stomach as it should, for example.
  • Others need surgery to prevent the liquid from the stomach from coming back up to the throat (a condition called GERD).
  • Other patients rely on our surgical expertise to treat them for cancer of the esophagus (also called esophageal cancer.)

Surgeries and treatments

Most of the time, we are able to perform surgery that uses advanced tools and techniques that involve only small cuts, or incisions, instead of traditional surgery. We also use robots and 3-dimensional video cameras to help us perform some of the most precise surgery possible anywhere.

Common reasons for surgery of the esophagus include:

Common tests for conditions of the esophagus are:

  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series, a group of x-rays using a barium swallow
  • X-ray with barium swallow, where the patient drinks a liquid that coats the inside of the esophagus so that it shows up better on an X-ray.
  • Endoscopy, where a doctor passes a thin tube with lights and a camera or other device to see the esophagus.
  • Biopsy, when a doctor takes a little bit of tissue to test for cancer or other conditions. If a biopsy is needed, it's done during an endoscopy.
  • CT scan, or computed tomography scan, which is a type of X-ray

Surgery to treat Heartburn or GERD

Heartburn occurs when acids in the stomach "back up" into the esophagus. This causes a burning feeling in the throat, chest or rib area, or anywhere along the esophagus. GERD can cause people to cough, wheeze or vomit, and can make it hard to swallow.

Terms related to heartburn are:

  • Gastro-intestinal Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Hiatal Hernia
  • Indigestion

Causes of GERD

Some people are born with a weak ring of muscles in the esophagus (a "sphincter"), which does not work properly. So it does not keep stomach acid or bile from getting into the esophagus. Others find they have heartburn when they eat fatty or spicy foods, when they exercise, or when they bend over or lay down. "Lifestyle changes"-like changes in diet, exercise and losing weight, for example-are usually the best treatment for GERD.

Cures for GERD

Most patients do not need surgery for GERD. But for those who do, REX Thoracic Surgical Specialists can perform various types of surgery. These procedures, along with changes in lifestyle, can improve or even cure the condition.

For most of our patients who need surgery, our thoracic surgeons use thorascopic surgery and other advanced techniques to repair or strengthen the muscles. This helps to keep stomach acid and bile from flowing up into the esophagus. Our surgeons are also experienced in traditional surgery, if that type of surgery is safest for a specific patient.

To diagnose heartburn or learn more about your options for care, contact REX Thoracic Surgical Specialists.

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