Diagnosing Esophageal Cancer

Contact Information

Contact UW Carbone Cancer Center for appointment scheduling, patient referrals and more information: 

(608) 262-5223

(800) 622-8922

There are several ways to diagnose esophageal cancer.

Barium Swallow (Esophagram)

It consists of a series of esophageal x-rays. Before the doctor takes the x-ray, you will drink a barium liquid that coats the esophagus. The barium will allow any irregularities in the shape of the esophagus to show up in the x-ray.

Esophagoscopy (or Endoscopy)

The doctor will insert a thin, lighted tube through your mouth and down your esophagus. A camera at the end of the tube lets the doctor look inside your esophagus. You will receive an anesthetic during this procedure so you are more comfortable. Your doctor may also perform a biopsy. This involves taking a small sample of cells from your esophagus. The biopsy will show whether cancer is present. 
Once esophageal cancer is diagnosed or suspected, additional tests are usually performed to determine if the disease has spread.

CT Scan (Computed Tomography)

Like standard x-ray studies, CT scanners use radiation to create images of the inside of the body.  The detail seen on a CT scan is superior to that of a normal x-ray. 

PET Scans

PET scans measure how much energy a tumor is using and are often able to find cancer that has spread to other parts of the body. The Carbone Cancer Center was one of the first facilities in the country to use PET scans for planning treatment for esophageal cancer.

Laparoscopic Staging

Laparoscopic staging is used to more accurately determine the extent of the cancer and may provide patients with more options during surgery. This allows the surgeon to place a feeding tube in the jejunum to preserve the stomach for reconstruction. The Carbone Cancer Center is one of a few facilities in the area to perform this procedure.