Esophagus Cancer Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Staging of esophagus cancer

The stage of a cancer describes how far it has spread. This is very important because your treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend a lot on the stage of your cancer.

Cancer of the esophagus is staged using the results of the tests described in the section “How is cancer of the esophagus found?

A staging system is a standard way for the cancer care team to describe the extent of the cancer. The most common staging system for esophagus cancer is the AJCC staging system. It uses several key pieces of information:

  • T is how far the main tumor has grown into the wall of the esophagus and into nearby organs.
  • N describes the spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • M tells whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.
  • G describes the grade of the cancer, which is based on how the patterns of cancer cells look under a microscope.

Staging also takes into account the cell type of the cancer (squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma). For squamous cell cancers, the place where the tumor is found can also be a factor in staging.

The T, N, M, and G categories are combined to get an overall stage, using the number zero (0) and the Roman numerals I through IV (1 - 4). The lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer.

Stages provide a detailed summary of how far the cancer has spread. But for treatment purposes, doctors are often more concerned about whether the cancer is resectable or not – that is, whether it can be completely removed (resected) with surgery. Early stage cancers are more likely to be resectable.

After looking at your test results, the doctor will tell you the stage of your cancer. Staging for esophageal cancer can be confusing, so be sure to ask your doctor to explain your stage in a way you understand. This will help you both decide on the best treatment for you.


Last Medical Review: 05/21/2014
Last Revised: 01/09/2015