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Cancer of the Esophagus (cont.)

How is esophageal cancer diagnosed?

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.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound: Pictures created with sound waves passed through the endoscope can help to determine the depth of invasion of the cancer and the status of the surrounding tissues, including lymph nodes.
  • 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:
    • CT scan of the chest and abdomen
    • Chest X-ray
    • PET scan in combination with CT scan
    • Nuclear bone scans
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/3/2016
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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.

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