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) allows your doctor to look inside your digestive tract to examine the lining. This procedure is usually performed as day surgery.
Most people are told not to eat or drink (fast) for 6 hours before an endoscopy. In some cases, you can continue drinking clear fluids until two hours before the procedure. Your doctor will advise you about this. Before the procedure, your throat may be sprayed with a local anaesthetic, which can taste very bitter, and you will usually be given a sedative into a vein to ensure you are comfortable during the procedure. 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.
If the doctor sees any suspicious-looking areas, they may remove a small amount of tissue from the oesophageal lining. This is known as a biopsy. A pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope to check for signs of disease. Biopsy results are usually available within 5–7 days. This waiting period can be an anxious time. It may help to talk to a supportive friend, relative or health professional about how you are feeling.
An endoscopy takes about 15 minutes. You will need to have someone take you home after the procedure, as you may feel drowsy or weak. You could 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 or oesophagus (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 this test at the same time as a standard endoscopy. The doctor will insert an endoscope with an ultrasound probe on the end. The probe releases soundwaves, which echo when they bounce off anything solid, such as an organ or tumour. This procedure helps determine whether the cancer has spread into the oesophageal wall, nearby tissues or lymph nodes. During the EUS, your doctor may use the ultrasound to guide the needle into the area of interest and take further tissue samples.
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof David Watson, Senior Consultant Surgeon, Oesophago-gastric Surgery Unit, Flinders Medical Centre, and Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor of Surgery, Flinders University, SA; Kate Barber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Victoria; Katie Benton, Advanced Dietitian, Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service, QLD; Alana Fitzgibbon, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gastrointestinal Cancers, Royal Hobart Hospital, TAS; Christine Froude, Consumer; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Interventional Endoscopist and Consultant Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Grant Wilson, Consumer; Prof Desmond Yip, Clinical Director, Department of Medical Oncology, The Canberra Hospital, ACT. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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