What Are the Stages of Esophageal Cancer?
The stages of esophageal cancer are given a number (I through IV); the higher the number, the more advanced the cancer. The stages are:
- Stage 0. Abnormal cells (not yet cancer) are found only in the layer of cells that line the esophagus.
- Stage I. Cancer cells are found only in the layer of cells that line the esophagus.
- Stage II. The cancer has reached the muscle layer or the outer wall of the esophagus. In addition, the cancer may have spread to 1 to 2 nearby lymph nodes (small glands that are part of the immune system).
- Stage III. The cancer has reached deeper into the inner muscle layer or the connective tissue wall. It may have spread beyond the esophagus into surrounding organ and/or has spread to more lymph nodes near the esophagus.
- Stage IV. This is the most advanced stage. The cancer has spread to other organs in the body and/or to lymph nodes far from the esophagus.
There are several tests to determine the stage of esophageal cancer, including:
- Chest X-ray.
- Bronchoscopy. The trachea (windpipe) and airways are examined with a bronchoscope, a thin, lighted tube that is inserted through the nose or mouth. This test is used to check for cancer involvement in the trachea or branching airways.
- CT scan. A procedure that creates sharp pictures of the inside of the body.
- Endoscopic ultrasound, or endosonography. Used during endoscopy, sound waves bounce off organs in the body to create pictures called sonograms. This test can provide more information on the size and extent of the tumor.
- Thoracoscopy. An endoscope is placed into the chest through an incision to examine the inside of the chest to look for lymph nodes and other chest organs that may have cancer spread. Biopsies can be done during this procedure.
- Laryngoscopy. A procedure where a doctor uses a mirror or a laryngoscope to examine the larynx (voice box).
- Laparoscopy. The lighted tube is inserted through an incision in the abdomen to examine the abdominal organs and take tissue samples to check for cancer spread.