The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on April 30, 2021.

Diagnosing esophageal cancer

A thorough and accurate cancer diagnosis is the first step in developing an esophageal cancer treatment plan. Your care team will use a variety of tests and tools designed for diagnosing esophageal cancer, evaluating the disease and developing your individualized treatment plan. Throughout your treatment, we’ll use imaging tests to track the size of the tumors, monitor your response to treatment, and modify your plan when needed.

Examples of procedures used for diagnosing esophageal cancer include:

Advanced genomic testing examines a tumor to look for DNA alterations that may be driving its growth and other behaviors. By identifying the mutations that occur in a cancer cell’s genome, we may be able to tailor your treatment based on these findings.

Nutrition panel is used to evaluate patients for deficiencies in nutrients, such as vitamin D and iron. The test may help identify the nutrients patients need replaced or boosted to support their quality of life. Learn more about our nutrition therapy program.

Upper endoscopy is one of the most common ways of diagnosing esophageal cancer. It may be used as a biopsy, as well as to determine the extent of the tumor. The camera on the end of the endoscope allows doctors to see the lining of the esophagus and detect abnormalities. The procedure is performed while the patient is under sedation.

Biopsy may not only be used to help diagnose cancer, but it also may help differentiate an adenocarcinoma from squamous cell carcinoma, which are two types of esophageal cancer with very different treatments and prognoses.

Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS) allows doctors to see the esophagus and surrounding tissues on an ultrasound machine. This test for esophageal cancer is designed to detect abnormalities in the surrounding tissue and lymph nodes. An EUS also helps stage esophageal cancer, which guides treatment decisions and prognosis assessments.

CT scan for esophageal cancer uses X-ray images to present detailed images of the esophagus and surrounding tissues. It also helps to identify the spread of cancer to other distant organs, such as the liver.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be useful in detecting esophageal tumors and metastases. This diagnostic technique offers greater soft tissue contrast than a CT scan.

PET/CT scans are designed to detect cancer and whether it has spread throughout the body.

Next topic: How is esophageal cancer treated?