If your healthcare provider believes you may have esophageal cancer, you will need certain exams and tests to be sure. You should expect to be asked questions about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors and family history of disease. Understanding your background will help your provider make an esophageal cancer diagnosis.

Your provider will also give you a physical exam, including an exam of your esophagus. You may have one or more of the following tests.

  • Barium swallow test. Using barium and X-rays, a barium swallow test allows doctors to create images of the upper gastrointestinal tract.
  • Computed tomography (CT). During this imaging test, X-rays create cross-sectional images of the esophagus.
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    This type of imaging study uses powerful magnets and radio waves to create a three-dimensional image of the esophagus.
  • Positron emission tomography (PET). This imaging test uses radioactive substances to help visualize function of the organs and tissues.

People at high risk of esophageal cancer (including those with Barrett’s esophagus) may have regular upper endoscopies. During this test, a physician will pass a thin tube with an attached camera (endoscope) down your throat and into your stomach. You won’t be awake during the test. The camera is attached to a monitor and will help you physician look at abnormal areas in the esophagus walls. Your physician may also use a scope to remove a small tissue sample called a biopsy to send to a lab for evaluation.

Your physician may order a complete blood count to show if you have too few red blood cells. People with esophageal cancer may have a low red blood cell count. Your healthcare provider may also take bloodwork to check your liver function to see if esophageal cancer has spread to the liver.

After a biopsy, patients will be contacted by a Markey team member to review results. Further management will be recommended at that time.

When you are diagnosed with esophageal cancer, it is common to feel a sense of urgency around starting treatment. However, in most cases there is time to do the needed research to ensure that your diagnosis is correct. That may include getting a second opinion.

Our team of experts works together to diagnose, treat and prevent esophageal cancer, with a focus on individualized patient care.

Markey is among the best cancer centers in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report, when it comes to advanced treatment options, survival rates and experienced providers. As the first and only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in Kentucky, Markey is able to serve many patients each year with rare and common cancers, including esophageal cancer.

Our specialized team is happy to work with your doctors and communicate to ensure confidence in your diagnosis.

Should I get a second opinion?

A second opinion can help to ensure that you will be getting the latest and most effective therapy for treating esophageal cancer. The following are common reasons for seeking a second opinion after your initial diagnosis:

  • You are having difficulty understanding your diagnosis.
  • A dedicated team specialized in your cancer type may not be available in your area.
  • There may be uncertainty around the stage of esophageal cancer.
  • You may want to learn more about different treatment options, including clinical trials and advanced technologies only available at an advanced center like Markey.
  • Your health insurance requires a second opinion before continuing toward treatment.

Questions to ask when getting a second opinion

After receiving a cancer diagnosis, you may have a lot on your mind. Here a few questions to keep in mind for your doctor when seeking a second opinion:

  • Is there a chance that my medical problem could have a different diagnosis?
  • Are there additional tests I should take before moving forward with treatment?
  • Do you recommend any treatments at this time?
  • What do you expect to happen if I wait or don't have the treatment?
  • What are the side effects of treatment?
  • How long are treatment recovery periods?

For more information, visit these trusted national sources for a variety of additional educational tools and resources:

NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - A Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Markey Cancer Center is designated by the National Cancer Institute as a Comprehensive Cancer Center – a distinction that recognizes our commitment to accelerating precision cancer research and care to patients. We are the first and only NCI-Comprehensive Cancer Center in Kentucky, and one of 57 in the nation.