The doctor will ask about your symptoms, and medical and family history. The head, neck, throat, and abdominal areas will be carefully examined. Your doctor may look for other possible causes of your symptoms. If cancer or other gastrointestinal conditions are suspected, a specialist may be recommended.
If you have symptoms, your doctor may conduct certain tests to identify abnormalities. These may include:
Diagnosis of esophageal cancer is confirmed with a biopsy. A biopsy is a tissue sample that is removed from the esophagus, often during an endoscopy. After removal, the sample is examined under a microscope. This is the only way to confirm a diagnosis.
The tissue may also be tested for other factors, such as genetic characteristics (human growth factor receptor or HER2). Certain genetics will provide guidance for prognosis and treatment.
If esophageal cancer is confirmed, results from completed tests and new tests will help determine the stage of cancer. Staging is used to identify characteristics of the tumor that will help determine the prognosis and treatment plan. Factors that play a role in staging include how far the original tumor has spread, whether lymph nodes are involved, if cancer has spread to other tissue, and microscopic cellular details.
Tests that may help determine esophageal cancer stage:
The esophagus is made up of 4 layers, the innermost mucosa, the submucosa, a thicker muscle layer, and a thin layer of connective tissue called the adventitia. The location and depth of the tumor is important in staging. Esophageal cancer is staged from 0-IV.
Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancer. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114816/Esophageal-and-esophagogastric-junction-cancer. Updated January 18, 2016. Accessed January 3, 2017.
Esophageal cancer. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal-disorders/tumors-of-the-gi-tract/esophageal-cancer. Updated July 2014. Accessed January 3, 2017.
Esophagus cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003098-pdf.pdf. Accessed January 3, 2017.
General information about esophageal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/patient/esophageal-treatment-pdq#section/all. Updated July 19, 2016. Accessed January 3, 2017.
Stages of esophageal cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/esophageal/patient/esophageal-treatment-pdq#section/_129. Updated July 19, 2016. Accessed January 3, 2017.
Last reviewed December 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.