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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are the stages of oesophageal cancer?

    And what are the symptoms associated with each stage?
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1


    Dr Salena Ward

    Bariatric (Obesity) Surgeon, General Surgeon, Upper GI Surgeon (Abdominal)

    I am a specialist Upper Gastrointestinal (gut) Surgeon, who performs surgery for weight loss, tumours of stomach and oesophagus, reflux, hiatus hernia and gallstones. I … View Profile

    There are 4 ‘stages’ of oesophageal cancer in medical terminology, but a bit complicated to explain each medical stage in depth and I think this is not quite what you are asking..  Basically as the number of the stage gets higher, the more advanced is the cancer and the less likely it is to be able to be cured.  The ‘stages’ of cancer as classified by the AJCC (American Joint Committee for Cancer) are made up of T (tumour) stage, N (nodal) stage and M (metastasis) stage.  I will explain these in basic terms and try and give a generalised guide of symptoms at each ‘stage’.

    Tumour: T1 is the cancer in the inner lining of the oesophagus, and is generally not symptomatic (ie silent). If found at this stage on endoscopy (camera into the oesophagus) the endoscopy has usually been done for something else, or for checking on reflux damage of the oesophagus.  T2 then T3 means the cancer is growing at varying depths into the wall of the oesophagus and at this stage you could start to get difficulty swallowing with, typically, fresh breads or chunks of meat getting stuck first.  T4 means the cancer has grown through the whole wall of oesophagus and stuck onto (or invaded) surrounding structures/organs, which sometimes means the cancer is not removable, and it is likely there is difficulty swallowing experienced at this stage.

    Node: Lymph nodes are litle round/oval structures which drain bodily fluid back to the circulation from any body part/organ. N0 means no lymph nodes (removed at operation or seen on xrays) have been detected to have cancer in them.  N1, N2 or N3 means that there are some lymph nodes which have cancer in them. The higher the number, the more lymph nodes are involved with cancer. When cancer has spread to lymph nodes this is not so good as it demonstrates that the cancer cells are already trying to spread. It is uncommon to get any symptoms of cancer in lymph nodes.

    Metastasis: this means cancer spread away from the oesophagus to other organs or parts of the body. M0 means no detectable cancer spread. M1 means there is detectable cancer spread and basically means, for oesophageal cancer, that the cancer is not able to be cured.  Metastases may cause symptoms such as pain, or other types of symptoms depending on where they lie. However some metastases can be asymptomatic (without symptoms).

    Basically if you have symptoms, you cannot then work out the stage of the cancer reliably, as every cancer is different and symptoms caused are different. Cancer stage is worked out by your specialist doctors with a variety of tests which you should speak to him/her about.

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