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What're the stages of esophageal cancer?

If the diagnosis is esophageal cancer, the doctor needs to learn the stage (or extent) of disease. Staging is a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the

doctor plan treatment. Listed below are descriptions of the four stages of esophageal cancer.
  • Stage I. The cancer is found only in the top layers of cells lining the esophagus.
  • Stage II. The cancer involves deeper layers of the lining of the esophagus, or it has spread to nearby lymph nodes. The cancer has not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Stage III. The cancer has invaded more deeply into the wall of the esophagus or has spread to tissues or lymph nodes near the esophagus. It has not spread to other parts of the body.
  • Stage IV. The cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Esophageal cancer can spread almost anywhere in the body, including the liver, lungs, brain, and bones.

Some tests used to determine whether the cancer has spread include:

  • Bronchoscopy. In this procedure, which is similar to esophagoscopy, your doctor uses an endoscope to examine your windpipe (trachea) and the air passages leading to your lungs (bronchi) to determine whether cancer has spread to these areas.
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan. This X-ray technique produces more detailed images of your internal organs than do conventional X-ray studies. That's because a computer translates information from X-rays into images of thin sections (slices) of your body at different levels. CT scans can confirm the location of a tumor within the esophagus and whether cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs. A CT scan exposes you to more ionizing radiation than plain X-rays do and usually isn't recommended if you're pregnant.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound. This procedure may prove to be more accurate than either CT scans or upper endoscopy in determining how far an esophageal cancer has spread into nearby tissues. During the test, a tiny ultrasound probe is passed through an endoscope into your esophagus. The probe produces very sensitive sound waves that penetrate deep into tissues. A computer then translates the sound waves into close-up images of your esophagus and nearby tissues. Your doctor can also take biopsies of lymph nodes and other tissues during the procedure. Endoscopic ultrasound uses sound waves rather than X-rays to create images, and the risks of the procedure, such as bleeding or perforation of the esophagus, are slight.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan. During this test, your doctor injects a small amount of a radioactive tracer - typically a form of glucose - into your body. All tissues in your body absorb some of this tracer, but tumors absorb greater amounts and appear brighter on the scan than healthy tissue does. A PET scan exposes you to a small amount of radiation, but because the radioactivity is short-lived, your overall exposure is low.

More information on esophageal cancer

What is esophageal cancer? - Esophageal cancer is a malignancy that develops in tissues lining the hollow, muscular canal. Cancer of the esophagus is also called esophageal cancer.
What causes esophageal cancer? - Esophageal cancer can result after many years of irritation to the esophagus. The use of both alcohol and tobacco significantly increase risk.
What're the risk factors for esophageal cancer? - People who smoke cigarettes, chew tobacco, and drink alcohol are at a higher risk for this cancer. Risk factors for esophageal cancer include age, sex, alcohol use.
What're symptoms of cancer of the esophagus? - Early-stage esophageal cancer may have no symptoms. Dysphagia is the most common symptom. Spread to bones may cause pain.
How is esophageal cancer diagnosed? - A barium swallow is usually the first test performed on a patient whose symptoms suggest esophageal cancer.
What're the stages of esophageal cancer? - Staging esophageal cancer is a careful attempt to find out whether the cancer has spread. Knowing the stage of the disease helps the doctor plan treatment.
What's the treatment for esophageal cancer? - Treatment for esophageal cancer depends on a number of factors, including the size, location, and extent of the tumor, and the general health of the patient.
How to prevent esophageal cancer? - The best way to prevent esophageal cancer is to avoid tobacco and alcohol. Eating more fruits and vegetables.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005