Diagnosis & staging
These are tests that may be used to diagnose this type of cancer.
- Barium swallow test: a liquid is swallowed to help the esophagus show on x-rays. The barium drink is not radioactive.
- Endoscopy: using a small medical camera on an endoscope (tube) to see inside the esophagus without surgery
- Biopsy: surgery to take a sample of the area or growth, which is examined for cancer
- Once a diagnosis of esophagus cancer is confirmed, then the doctors need to check and see if the cancer has spread. These are some of the tests that may be done:
- CT scan
- Endoscopic ultrasound of the surrounding tissue
- Bronchoscopy may be required to see if tumour is invading patient's airway
- Mediastinoscopy may be necessary to assess lymph nodes
- Laparoscopy may be helpful to assess presence of intra-abdominal spread or liver involvement
- PET scan is sometimes useful
For more information on tests used to diagnose cancer, see our Recommended Websites, Diagnostic Tests section.
Types and Stages
- Squamous cell cancer develops in the squamous cells that line the esophagus.
- Squamous cell cancer usually develops in the middle or upper part of the esophagus.
- Adenocarcinoma develops in the glandular cells in the lower part of the esophagus.
Staging describes the extent of a cancer. The TNM classification system is used as the standard around the world. In general a lower number in each category means a better prognosis. The stage of the cancer is used to plan the treatment.
T describes the site and size of the main tumour (primary)
N describes involvement of lymph nodes
M relates to whether the cancer has spread (presence or absence of distant metastases)
Very early cancer; has not spread below the lining of the first layer of esophageal tissue
Tumour involves inner lining only
Tumour may involve entire wall or may involve nodes and inner lining only
Tumour involves entire wall and lymph nodes
Metastases (tumour has spread outside the esophagus)