Many of the tests used to diagnose stomach cancer are also used to find esophageal cancer. If your health care provider suspects either cancer, you may have one or more of these tests:
A biopsy involves taking samples of cells or tissue. A pathologist then looks at the samples under a microscope to determine if they're cancer. Biopsies also show cells that haven't developed into cancer but may lead to cancer in the future.
A specially trained doctor places a flexible plastic tube with a camera into the mouth to examine the esophagus and stomach. The doctor then takes samples of tissue that will be examined for cancer. Patients are asleep during this type of endoscopy.
An endoscopic ultrasound allows your doctor to see if there is anything abnormal in your esophagus, stomach and other parts of your digestive tract.
An upper GI (gastrointestinal) series is a set of X-rays of the esophagus and stomach. It is also called a barium swallow because you first need to swallow a drink with barium. In X-rays, the substance outlines the esophagus and stomach. This helps doctors see any tumors.
A thoracic CT is a computerized tomography (CT) scan of the chest and upper abdomen, including the esophagus and stomach. Computer-generated pictures show details inside of the esophagus and stomach.
A PET (positron emission tomography) scan may find cancer that other tests may not find. First, a small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. A scanner takes pictures of areas inside the body where the glucose is used. Cancer cells use more glucose because they grow at a faster rate than normal cells.
Bronchoscope can show whether esophageal cancer is affecting the breathing tube or air passages that lead to the lungs.
Pulmonary function tests, echocardiogram or cardiac stress testing may be done if a cancer tumor is close to the esophagus. This helps evaluate whether chest surgery – operating near the heart and lungs – is a safe option.
Virginia Piper Cancer Institute; American Cancer Society; National Cancer Institute
Daniel Dunn, MD, medical director, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute Esophageal and Gastric Cancer Program