PDR Health

Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

How to diagnose Esophageal Cancer

Esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed with one or more of the following tests and procedures:

-Upper endoscopy

During upper endoscopy, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached (endoscope) down your throat and into your esophagus. Your doctor is then able to look for abnormal areas.


If abnormal areas are found during upper endoscopy, your doctor may take a tissue sample (biopsy) for testing. Esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed by examining the tissue under a microscope.

-Imaging tests

Imaging tests may be used to help determine if cancer has spread beyond the esophagus. These tests may also be used to help plan treatment. Imaging tests used to diagnose esophageal cancer include computed tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan and MRI.

-Endoscopic ultrasound

During endoscopic ultrasound, an endoscope is passed down your throat and into your esophagus. A small ultrasound probe on the end of the endoscope is used to create images of your esophagus and nearby structures. Endoscopic ultrasound may be used to help determine if cancer has spread beyond the esophagus.

-Barium swallow or upper GI series

During a barium swallow, you will be asked to drink a liquid that contains barium. The barium coats the inside of your esophagus and makes it easier to see on an x-ray. An x-ray of your upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract is then taken. Barium swallows are less commonly used to diagnose esophageal cancer because they may not be as accurate as other tests.


Once esophageal cancer has been diagnosed, your doctor will work to determine the extent (stage) of the cancer. Staging tests may be used to help determine the stage of the cancer. These tests may include imaging tests and endoscopic ultrasound. The stage of esophageal cancer is important because it helps guide treatment decisions. Esophageal cancer is staged using a system that describes how far the cancer has spread in the body. The most common staging system for esophageal cancer is the TNM staging system:

T refers to the size of the tumor and whether it has grown into nearby tissues.

N refers to the number of lymph nodes that contain cancer.

M refers to whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other parts of the body. Esophageal cancer is also staged using a numbered system from stage 0 to stage IV, with stage 0 being early-stage cancer and stage IV being late-stage cancer. Esophageal cancer that is found only in the layer of cells lining the esophagus is referred to as carcinoma in situ and is considered stage 0.

The stages of esophageal cancer are:

Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ)

Stage I

Stage II

Stage III

Stage IV


What is Esophageal cancer?

Esophageal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the esophagus.

The esophagus is the hollow, muscular tube that moves food and liquids from the throat to the stomach.

The wall of the esophagus is made up of several layers of tissue. Esophageal cancer can occur in any of these layers.

Main symptoms include:

-Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

-Weight loss

-Chest pain, pressure or burning

Esophageal cancer is often found because of symptoms a person is having.