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Cancer of the Esophagus

  • Posted: 04/04/2013

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After you learn that you have cancer of the esophagus, you may need other tests to help with making decisions about treatment.

Tumor Grade Test

The tumor tissue that was removed during your biopsy procedure can be used in lab tests. The pathologist studies tissue samples under a microscope to learn the grade of the tumor. The grade tells how different the tumor tissue is from normal esophagus tissue.

Tumors with higher grades tend to grow faster than those with lower grades. They are also more likely to spread. Doctors use tumor grade along with other factors to suggest treatment options.

For more about tumor grade, see the NCI fact sheet Tumor Grade.

Staging Tests

Staging tests can show the stage (extent) of esophageal cancer, such as whether cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

When cancer of the esophagus spreads, cancer cells are often found in nearby lymph nodes. Esophageal cancer cells can spread from the esophagus to almost any other part of the body, such as the liver, lungs, or bones.

Staging tests may include...

  • CT scan: Your doctor may order a CT scan of your chest and abdomen. An x-ray machine linked to a computer will take a series of detailed pictures of these areas. You'll receive contrast material by mouth and by injection into a blood vessel in your arm or hand. The contrast material makes abnormal areas easier to see. The pictures can show cancer that has spread to the liver, lungs, bones, or other organs.
  • PET scan: Your doctor may use a PET scan to find cancer that has spread. You'll receive an injection of a small amount of radioactive sugar. A machine makes computerized pictures of the sugar being used by cells in the body. Because cancer cells use sugar faster than normal cells, areas with cancer cells look brighter on the pictures. The pictures can show cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes, liver, or other organs.
  • EUS: An EUS (endoscopic ultrasound) can show how deeply the cancer has invaded the wall of the esophagus. It can also show whether cancer may have spread to nearby lymph nodes. Your doctor will pass a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) through your mouth to your esophagus. A probe at the end of the tube sends out high-energy sound waves. The waves bounce off tissues in your esophagus and nearby organs, and a computer creates a picture from the echoes. During the exam, the doctor may take tissue samples of lymph nodes.

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