Further tests after diagnosis

If the first tests suggest you have oesophageal cancer, your doctor will want to do some further tests.  This helps confirm the diagnosis and see if the cancer has begun to spread. It will help your doctor plan the best treatment.

Possible tests include: 

  • CT scan – This scan takes a series of x-rays to create a 3-D image of the body.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound – This scan uses soundwaves to build-up a picture of the area. This can help give more information about the size of the tumour. Your doctor may also take a sample of tissue (biopsy) during the procedure.
  • PET/CT scan – This test measures the activity of cells in different parts of the body.
  • Laparoscopy – This test is not always necessary. During a small operation the doctor uses a thin tube with a camera to look into your tummy.

It may take between a few days and a couple of weeks before you receive your tests results. You may find the wait difficult to cope with. You can speak to your nurse or our cancer support specialist for support.

Further tests after diagnosis

If the first tests suggest that you have oesophageal cancer, your specialist may want to do some further tests. This is to confirm the diagnosis and see whether the cancer has spread to any other part of the body. This process is called staging and may take some time. The results of these tests will help you and your doctor decide on the best treatment.

More tests may also be done if no cancer was found after the first tests, or if the results weren’t clear. Sometimes these tests may be done again, during and after treatment, to check on your progress.


What happens in a CT scan?

A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan takes 10–30 minutes and is painless. It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with. You will be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.

CT scan
CT scan

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You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. It’s important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.

You’ll probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.


Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)

This is like an endoscopy but the tip of the endoscope has an ultrasound probe on it. Ultrasound uses sound waves to build up a picture of the area. It allows the doctors to get a deeper view of the wall of the oesophagus and surrounding areas. This may give them a better idea of the size and depth of the tumour. They may also be able to see whether nearby lymph nodes are enlarged.

A sample of tissue (a biopsy) can be taken to be examined under the microscope.

You may be given slightly stronger sedation than for a gastro-intestinal endoscopy, as you need to lie very still during this test. If you are given stronger sedation, it will take a little longer to recover.


PET-CT scan

This is a combination of a CT scan, which takes a series of x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture, and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan uses low-dose radiation to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body.

PET-CT scans give more detailed information about the part of the body being scanned. You may have to travel to a specialist centre to have one. You can't eat for six hours before the scan, although you may be able to drink.

A mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. The radiation dose used is very small. The scan is done after at least an hour’s wait. It usually takes 30–90 minutes. You should be able to go home after the scan.


Laparoscopy

This test involves a small operation, done under a general anaesthetic. It’s not always needed, as the other tests you have may give your doctor enough information. Your doctor will discuss the test with you if they think it will be helpful.

The surgeon makes a cut about 2cm long in the skin and muscle near the tummy button. They then carefully insert a thin tube with a tiny video camera on the end (laparoscope) into your tummy (abdomen). The surgeon uses the laparoscope to look at the lining of your tummy and the organs nearby. The surgeon will usually take a biopsy. To do this they will make another small cut in the skin and muscle and insert an instrument to take the sample.

You should be able to get up as soon as the effects of the anaesthetic have worn off. You’ll have one or two stitches in your tummy where the cuts were made. You may need to stay in hospital overnight.


Waiting for test results

Waiting for test results can be a difficult time. It may take from a few days to a couple of weeks for the results of your tests to be ready. You may find it helpful to talk with your partner, family or a close friend. Your specialist nurse or one of the organisations listed on our database, can also provide support. You can also talk things over with one of our cancer support specialists on 0808 808 00 00.

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