If a physician suspects that a patient has esophageal cancer, a diagnosis can be made (or ruled out) through a series of tests. Although the process may be different for every patient, imaging scans are typically the first step. For instance, a physician may order a set of chest X-rays, with or without a barium swallow or esophagram (which coats the walls of a patient’s esophagus so that small lesions, such as flat, raised areas or round bumps can be seen on the images.)
However, several other imaging tests may also be used to help establish an esophageal cancer diagnosis. These tests may include:
- CT scan – Similar to an X-ray, but capable of providing more detailed images
- MRI – Uses radio waves and strong magnets to provide images of soft tissues inside the body
- PET scan – Uses a radioactive sugar solution to identify rapidly dividing, potentially cancerous cells
- Upper endoscopy – A lighted tube is inserted through the throat into the esophagus, allowing a physician to look for abnormal patches in the esophageal lining
- Endoscopic ultrasound – Uses a probe that converts sound waves into detailed images
- Bronchoscopy – A lighted tube is inserted through the mouth or nose into the patient’s lungs to determine whether or not a tumor is invading the patient’s airway
If a patient’s imaging scan shows something that might be esophageal cancer, a physician will take a small cell sample from the lesion for further testing. This procedure is known as a biopsy. The results can not only confirm an esophageal cancer diagnosis, but also provide additional information about the type (adenocarcinoma or squamous cell) and grade of the cancer, as well as its molecular makeup. From there, an individualized treatment plan can be developed.
Moffitt Cancer Center is a recognized leader in the diagnosis and treatment of esophageal cancer. No referral is needed to make an appointment with one of our experienced oncologists; request a new patient appointment online or call 1-888-MOFFITT.