How do physicians determine esophageal cancer staging?
Staging describes a system used to show how deep the cancer has extended into the esophageal tissue, whether it has spread to lymph nodes, and what other organs in the body might be involved.
There is a common system agreed upon by the Union for International Cancer Control and the American Joint Committee on Cancer that uses TNM staging.
- T refers to the size and reach of the primary tumor.
- N refers to the spread to lymph nodes.
- M refers to the presence of metastases.
With the endoscope, the gastroenterologist can use ultrasound to determine how deep into the layers of the esophagus the tumor has grown. The doctor can also tell whether lymph nodes that line the esophagus have been invaded.
Either CT scan of the chest and abdomen or PET scan is then used to determine the extent of tumor spread.
Depending on the type of cancer and the extent the tumor has spread, there are certain circumstances where more invasive procedures are warranted to help with staging: laparoscopy (an operation where a surgeon inserts a camera into the abdominal cavity), thoracoscopy (the camera is inserted into the chest cavity), and bronchoscopy (a camera is inserted into the lung airways).