Tests for oesophageal cancer
Checking for oesophageal cancer usually involves a number of tests. The diagnostic tests you have for oesophageal cancer will depend on your specific situation and may include:
- an endoscopy and biopsy to find oesophageal cancer
- further tests to see if the cancer has spread (metastasised).
Waiting for the test results can be a stressful time. It may help to talk to a friend or family member, or a health professional. You can also call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Learn more about:
Endoscopy and biopsy
An endoscopy (also called a gastroscopy, oesophagoscopy or upper endoscopy) is a procedure that allows your doctor to look at the lining of your gastrointestinal tract. It is usually done as day surgery.
Having an endoscopy
You will be told not to eat or drink (fast) for six hours before an endoscopy. In some cases, you can drink clear fluids until two hours before the procedure. Your doctor will let you know about this. Before an endoscopy, some specialists may spray the throat with a local anaesthetic to numb it, but more commonly you will be given a sedative into a vein to make the procedure more comfortable. A long, flexible tube with a light and small camera on the end (endoscope) will then be passed into your mouth, down your throat and oesophagus, and into your stomach and small bowel.
Taking a biopsy
If the doctor sees any areas that look like cancer, they may remove a small amount of tissue from the stomach lining. This is known as a biopsy. A specialist doctor called a pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope to check for signs of cancer. Biopsy results are usually available in 5–7 days.
An endoscopy takes about 10 minutes. You will need to have someone take you home after the procedure, as you may feel drowsy or weak. You may have a sore throat afterwards and feel a little bloated.
Endoscopies have some risks, such as bleeding or getting a small tear or hole in the stomach (perforation). These risks are very uncommon. Your doctor should explain all the risks before asking you to agree (consent) to the procedure.
Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
You may have an EUS at the same time as a standard endoscopy. The doctor will use an endoscope with an ultrasound probe on the tip or with a built-in ultrasound device. The probe releases soundwaves that echo when they bounce off anything solid, such as an organ or tumour.
This test helps work out whether the cancer has spread into the gastric wall, nearby tissues or lymph nodes. During the EUS, your doctor may use the ultrasound to guide a needle into the area they want to look at and take tissue samples.
Podcast: Tests and Cancer
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.
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