Diagnosis of Esophageal Cancer

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Early esophageal cancer may not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:
  • Food gets stuck in the esophagus, and food may come back up
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Pain in the chest or back
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • A hoarse voice or cough that doesn’t go away within 2 weeks

Diagnosis of Esophageal Cancer

If you have a symptom that suggests esophageal cancer, you may have the following tests:
  • Barium swallow: After you drink a barium solution, you have x-rays taken of your esophagus and stomach. The barium solution makes your esophagus show up more clearly on the x-rays. This test is also called an upper GI series.
  • Endoscopy: The doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to look down your esophagus. The doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray, and you may also receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth or nose to the esophagus. The doctor may also call this procedure upper endoscopy, EGD, or esophagoscopy.
  • Biopsy: Usually, cancer begins in the inner layer of the esophagus. The doctor uses an endoscope to remove tissue from the esophagus. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

Staging

If the biopsy shows that you have cancer, it is important to know the extent (stage) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment. One or more of the following staging tests may be done:
  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan
  • Bone scan
  • Laparoscopy
These are the stages of esophageal cancer:
  • Stage 0: Abnormal cells are found only in the inner layer of the esophagus. It’s called carcinoma in situ.
  • Stage I: The cancer has grown through the inner layer to the submucosa. (The picture shows the submucosa and other layers.)
  • Stage II is one of the following:
    • The cancer has grown through the inner layer to the submucosa, and cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes.
    • Or, the cancer has invaded the muscle layer. Cancer cells may be found in lymph nodes.
    • Or, the cancer has grown through the outer layer of the esophagus.
  • Stage III is one of the following:
    • The cancer has grown through the outer layer, and cancer cells have spread to lymph nodes.
    • Or, the cancer has invaded nearby structures, such as the airways. Cancer cells may have spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage IV: Cancer cells have spread to distant organs, such as the liver.
If you have symptoms associated with esophageal cancer, contact us to request an appointment with our oncologists to begin diagnostic testing or to learn more about treatment options