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Stages of Esophageal Cancer

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Updated July 02, 2014

After esophageal cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the esophagus or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer cells have spread within the esophagus or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.

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Staging process for Esophageal Cancer

  • Bronchoscopy:
    A procedure to look inside the trachea and large airways in the lung for abnormal areas. A bronchoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted through the nose or mouth into the trachea and lungs. Tissue samples may be taken for biopsy.

  • Chest x-ray:
    An x-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.

  • Laryngoscopy:
    A procedure in which the doctor examines the larynx (voice box) with a mirror or with a laryngoscope (a thin, lighted tube).

  • CT scan (CAT scan):
    A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This test is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS):
    A procedure in which an endoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into the body. The endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. This procedure is also called endosonography.

  • Thoracoscopy:
    A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the chest to check for abnormal areas. An incision (cut) is made between two ribs and a thoracoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into the chest. Tissue samples and lymph nodes may be removed for biopsy. In some cases, this procedure may be used to remove portions of the esophagus or lung.

  • Laparoscopy:
    A surgical procedure to look at the organs inside the abdomen to check for signs of disease. Small incisions (cuts) are made in the wall of the abdomen, and a laparoscope (a thin, lighted tube) is inserted into one of the incisions. Other instruments may be inserted through the same or other incisions to perform procedures such as removing organs or taking tissue samples for biopsy.

  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan):
    A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radionuclide glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells. The use of PET for staging esophageal cancer is being studied in clinical trials.
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The following stages are used for esophageal cancer

  • Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)
    In stage 0, cancer is found only in the innermost layer of cells lining the esophagus. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

  • Stage I
    In stage I, cancer has spread beyond the innermost layer of cells to the next layer of tissue in the wall of the esophagus.

  • Stage II
    Stage II esophageal cancer is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB, depending on where the cancer has spread.
    • Stage IIA: Cancer has spread to the layer of esophageal muscle or to the outer wall of the esophagus.
    • Stage IIB: Cancer may have spread to any of the first three layers of the esophagus and to nearby lymph nodes.

  • Stage III
    In stage III, cancer has spread to the outer wall of the esophagus and may have spread to tissues or lymph nodes near the esophagus.

  • Stage IV
    Stage IV esophageal cancer is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB, depending on where the cancer has spread.
    • Stage IVA: Cancer has spread to nearby or distant lymph nodes.
    • Stage IVB: Cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes and/or organs in other parts of the body.

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Sources:

Lightdale, M.D., Charles J.. "Esophageal Cancer." Vol. 94, No. 1, 1999. The American Journal of Gastroenterology. http://www.acg.gi.org/physicians/guidelines/EsophagealCancer.pdf

"What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Esophagus - Staging" National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/esophagus/page4

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