What is Esophageal Cancer Staging?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2018
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Esophageal cancer staging is a method used to describe how far esophageal cancer has developed. Each stage indicates not only how much the cancer has grown, but also how far it has spread. These stages are used in determining which forms of treatment may be most helpful for a patient as well as in making a general prognosis. A person in the earliest stages of esophageal cancer has a better chance of successful treatment and a longer potential for survival than a person in the later stages of this disease.

A diagnosis of esophageal cancer means cancerous cells have begun to form in the tube that connects a person’s throat to his stomach. This type of cancer typically forms in the esophageal lining. While it may form in any part of esophagus, many cases of esophageal cancer start in the tube’s lower portion. Symptoms include difficulty swallowing, chest pain, tiredness, and unexplained weight loss. Many people do not have symptoms when the cancer is in its earliest stages, however.

Once a person has been diagnosed with this type of cancer, his doctor usually does esophageal cancer staging. The doctor works to determine the stage of cancer the patient has reached and uses the results to help develop a treatment plan for his patient. A doctor may use many tests in evaluating which stage the cancer has reached, including computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans.


Stage 0 of esophageal cancer staging is the earliest stage of cancer. At this stage, the cancer is just getting started and hasn’t spread. Usually, people at this stage of cancer have few symptoms or none at all. Patients usually have the best chance of surviving for at least five years when cancer is caught at this stage.

Stage I of this disease is marked by cancer growth that has spread deeper into the esophageal lining but has yet to spread outside the esophagus. Five-year survival rates begin to significantly decline during this stage. Stage II is marked by the even deeper movement of the cancer, and it often spreads to the lymph nodes in this stage. Survival rates are about half that of Stage I.

By Stage III, esophageal cancer has typically moved outside of the esophagus and affects not only the lymph nodes but also other tissues in the area. At this point, other bodily organs are still cancer free, but patients may experience difficulty swallowing. Only a fraction of those who receive treatment will survive for five years after reaching Stage III. By Stage IV, the patient’s cancer has typically spread to other areas of his body and may affect other organs. There is a very small likelihood that a patient will live for five years after reaching Stage IV of esophageal cancer staging.



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