Esophagus Cancer Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Staging for cancer of the esophagus

Staging is the process of finding out how far cancer has spread. This is very important because your treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend to a large extent 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?” Staging also takes into account the cell type of the cancer (squamous cell carcinoma or adenocarcinoma), as well as the grade of the cancer. As used here, “grade” refers to whether the cells look more or less like normal cells. For squamous cell cancers, the place where the tumor is found can also be a factor in staging.

Stages are grouped using the number zero (0) and the Roman numerals I through IV (1 - 4). As a rule, 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. 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: 12/26/2012
Last Revised: 12/26/2012