UI Hospitals and Clinics

Esophageal Cancer Program

Rest assured. You've come to the right place.

At Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Iowa, our highly experienced physicians and staff are dedicated to taking care of you, not just your cancer. As part of a nationally recognized cancer center, our team focuses on every aspect of esophageal cancer—our clinicians are also top researchers, finding new and innovative treatments and therapies, as well as identifying genetic links that may pinpoint risk. We are on the leading edge of cancer research, always searching for ways to make the best cancer treatment even better.

Services That Set Us Apart

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

"Comprehensive" NCI Designation

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.

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.

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 wider 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.

About Esophageal Cancer

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:

The more common of the two, usually located in the lower part of the esophagus and close to the stomach. This cancer occurs most commonly in Caucasians and people who have gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
Squamous cell carcinoma
Usually located in the upper part of the esophagus. This type of cancer 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 part or all of the esophagus
    • Stent placement: a 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

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.

Thoracic Surgery

Radiation Oncology

Medical Oncology


Nuclear Medicine


Interventional Radiology


Researcher Scientists

  • Doug Spitz, PhD

Research Nurses

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