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Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Patient Information [NCI] - Stages of Esophageal Cancer

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There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if esophageal cancer spreads to the lung, the cancer cells in the lung are actually esophageal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic esophageal cancer, not lung cancer.

The following stages are used for squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus:

Stage 0 (High-grade Dysplasia)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the inner (mucosal) layer of the esophageal wall. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called high-grade dysplasia.

Stage I squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus

Stage I is divided into Stage IA and Stage IB, depending on where the cancer is found.

  • Stage IA: Cancer has formed in the inner (mucosal) layer of the esophageal wall. The tumor cells look a lot like normal cells under a microscope.
  • Stage IB: Cancer has formed:
    • in the inner (mucosal) layer of the esophageal wall. The tumor cells do not look at all like normal cells under a microscope; or
    • in the inner (mucosal) layer and spread into the middle (muscle) layer or the outer (connective tissue) layer of the esophageal wall. The tumor cells look a lot like normal cells under a microscope. The tumor is in the lower esophagus or it is not known where the tumor is.
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