Stages of esophageal cancer
Staging describes or classifies a cancer based on how much cancer there is in the body and where it is when first diagnosed. This is often called the extent of cancer. Information from tests is used to find out the size of the tumour, which parts of the esophagus have cancer, whether the cancer has spread from where it first started and where the cancer has spread. Your healthcare team uses the stage to plan treatment and estimate the outcome (your prognosis).
Staging for esophageal cancer includes cancer of the esophagus and cancer of the gastroesophageal (GE) junction, which is where the esophagus and stomach join.
Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of esophageal cancer. They have slightly different stages, shown below. Find out more about stages of adenocarcinoma and stages of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
The most common staging system for esophageal cancer is the TNM system. For esophageal cancer there are 5 stages – stage 0 followed by stages 1 to 4. Often the stages 1 to 4 are written as the Roman numerals I, II, III and IV. Generally, the higher the stage number, the more the cancer has spread. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about staging.
When describing the stage, doctors may use the words early stage, locally advanced or metastatic. Early stage means that the cancer is only in the esophagus and has not spread to other parts of the body. Locally advanced means close to the esophagus or around it, including nearby lymph nodes. Metastatic means in a part of the body farther from the esophagus.
The stages of esophageal cancer also depend on the grade. The grade describes how different the cancer cells look from normal cells, how quickly they grow and divide, and how likely they are to spread.
Brierley JD, Gospodarowicz MK, Wittekind C (eds.). TNM Classification of Malignant Tumours. 8th ed. Wiley Blackwell; 2017.
Esophageal and esophagogastric junction cancers. National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. National Comprehensive Cancer Network; 2013.