Detection and Diagnosis of Esophageal Cancer

The following tests and procedures may be used to detect and diagnose esophageal cancer

  • Physical exam and history. An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of the disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of your health habits as well as any past illnesses and treatments will also be taken. 
  • Imaging tests. Your doctor may request an imaging test such as an X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to see bones, organs, and other soft tissue.  
  • Esophagoscopy. A procedure used to look inside the esophagus to check for abnormal areas. A thin, tube-like instrument, called an esophagoscope, is inserted through the mouth or nose and down the throat into the esophagus. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. The biopsy is usually done during an esophagoscopy. Sometimes a biopsy shows changes in the esophagus that are not cancer but may lead to cancer.

Signs and Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Early esophageal cancer typically causes no signs or symptoms. When signs and symptoms do become present, however, they often include: 

  • Coughing or hoarseness in the throat
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Pain, pressure, or burning in the chest
  • Unexpected or unexplained weight loss
  • Worsening indigestion or heartburn