Cancer of the esophagus is in the top ten leading causes of cancer deaths. For years, the only treatment available was surgery which was associated with a high mortality rate and wasn't very effective. Dr. James Cox is the head of the Radiation Oncology Division at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and is on Governor Ann Richards physician team. He says the survival rate used to be one out of ten or 20, but now the odds are more like 50-50.
"Chemotherapy is given systemically, that means it's given intraveinously. A series of radiation treatments -- is -- the series is given from the outside. That is, the patient lies on a treatment table -- they don't feel anything. And in many cases, that is followed by removing the diseased esophagus."
Cox says specific treatment plans for Richards have not been settled on. Richards, who is 72 years old, admits she smoke and drank heavily for much of her life, although she has given up both for many years now. Esophageal cancer is typically caused by smoking and heavy alcohol consumption.
"So the fact that she's a healthy woman, irrespective of the age, makes it favorable for her. On the other hand though, treatment is intensive."
Richards was Texas' 45th governor and served from 1991 to 1995. Laurie Johnson Houston Public Radio News.