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Cancer of the Esophagus (cont.)

Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

The best diagnosis is based on findings from an endoscopic examination of the esophagus.

  • This study may be carried out either in a hospital or in a doctor's office.


  • The doctor administers a topical anesthetic to the throat to suppress the gag reflex. Doctors frequently give intravenous (IV) sedation just before the procedure.


  • The doctor then inserts an endoscope into the esophagus. An endoscope is a thin, flexible plastic tube that contains fiberoptic bundles.

    • Using a tiny camera in the endoscope, the doctor searches the surface of the esophagus for areas of concern.


    • Doctors define esophageal tumors in terms of their size and location.

      • Stage I - Tumor limited to the top layers of the cell lining


      • Stage II - Tumor extending deeper into muscle layers of the esophagus or into adjacent lymph nodes


      • Stage III - Tumor extensively involving the wall of the esophagus, adjacent tissues, or lymph nodes


      • Stage IV - Tumor involving distant parts of the body (metastases) and may involve the liver, lungs, brain, or bones

    • These factors are important in determining the stage of the cancer and treatment options.


    • The doctor can take biopsies to confirm whether the abnormality is a cancer and to determine its type.

  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) barium contrast studies help the doctor to detect cancers but may fail to detect small tumors more easily seen through endoscopy.


  • Once the presence of cancer has been confirmed, the doctor tries to determine the spread of the malignancy beyond the esophagus. Doctors may use the following imagery:

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Esophageal Cancer »

Esophageal carcinoma was well described at the beginning of the 19th century, and the first successful resection was performed in 1913 by Frank Torek.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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