The Stages of Esophageal Cancer

The risk of your cancer spreading (metastasizing) is directly related to the size of your tumor. The term stage refers to the extent the tumor has spread. The stage is important in determining the likelihood of cure with treatment.

Small tumors are much less likely to have spread and have a very high likelihood of cure with treatment. Your surgeon will assign a stage to your cancer, but this often occurs after your surgery when the pathology results are available.

Cancer is described with a system of Roman numerals to detail the progression of cancer. Your physician will assign a stage according to the specific involvement of your cancer, which will help guide your treatment.

Esophageal cancer is staged in two ways. The clinical stage is your physician’s best understanding of the progression of your disease, based on these results:

  • Physical exam
  • Lab tests
  • Imaging studies

If you’ve had a biopsy, your pathologist can assess the pathological stage of your cancer, which may show that your cancer has spread more than first believed.

Cancer spreads throughout your body in three ways:

  • Invades surrounding healthy tissue
  • Invades your lymph system and travels to other parts of your body
  • Invades your blood and travels through your veins and capillaries to other parts of your body

To determine if cancer has spread, your physician may order one or more of the following tests:

Recurrent esophageal cancer is cancer that has returned (recurred) after treatment. It may come back in some other part of your body. You may need a combination of treatments to manage recurrent cancer.

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