Esophageal Cancer - Diagnosis

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What kinds of tests and exams led to a diagnosis of esophageal cancer?

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If you have a symptom that suggests esophageal cancer, your doctor must find out whether it's really due to cancer or to some other cause. The doctor gives you a physical exam and asks about your personal and family health history. You may have blood tests. You also may have:

  • Barium swallow: After you drink a barium solution, you have x-rays taken of your esophagus and stomach. The barium solution makes your esophagus show up more clearly on the x-rays. This test is also called an upper GI series.
  • Endoscopy: The doctor uses a thin, lighted, flexible tube (endoscope) to look down your esophagus. The doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray, and you may also receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth or nose to the esophagus. The doctor may also call this procedure upper endoscopy, EGD, or esophagoscopy.
  • Biopsy: Usually, cancer begins in the inner layer of the esophagus. The doctor uses an endoscope to remove tissue from the esophagus. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

You may want to ask the doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

  • Where will the procedure take place? Will I have to go to the hospital?
  • How long will it take? Will I be awake?
  • Will it hurt? Will I get an anesthetic?
  • What are the risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding afterward?
  • How do I prepare for the procedure?
  • How long will it take me to recover?
  • How soon will I know the results? Will I get a copy of the pathology report?
  • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about the next steps? When?
Return to Esophageal Cancer

See what others are saying

Comment from: yellowroses, 55-64 Male (Caregiver) Published: October 15

My husband, aged 63, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in June and fast-tracked into chemotherapy and radiation for 6 weeks after PET scan and CAT scan of the Upper GI tract. Now we are waiting for surgery. He went to the doctor after not being able to get food down; it would back up and cause choking basically. The gastroenterologist did an Endoscopy and immediately, sent him to a surgeon who specifically works with esophageal cancers and its treatment.

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Comment from: Juice308, 25-34 Male (Patient) Published: January 08

I sometimes had difficulty with food getting stuck right below my sternum. I'm a 32 year old male. I didn't think much of it, but went to the doctor and was prescribed a barium swallow. This showed an irregular narrowing. The concerns led to scopes/EUS (endoscopic ultrasound) where it was diagnosed as stage 3a esophageal cancer. All this started three months ago (9/27) followed by 6 weeks of chemotherapy (carboplatin and taxol) and radiation. Potential surgery schedule for 1/22. For all of those who have these symptoms, please get it checked out. Before all this, I thought it was only symptoms of GERD, gall bladder problems, or hernia.

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