Esophageal Cancer Stages / Staging
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Staging is a system that describes the extent of cancer in the body. This process also reveals the type of esophageal cancer, which is a key part of developing a personalized treatment plan.
Esophageal cancer staging begins by evaluating three key components of cancer: size, location and spread. In the earliest stage of esophageal cancer (stage I), the cancer is localized to the esophagus. Later stages are characterized by the growth and spread of cancerous tissues throughout the body (stage IV).
The TNM System
The stages of esophageal cancer are assigned based on The American Joint Committee on Cancer’s (AJCC) TNM system, a commonly accepted method based on three key components:
- Tumor (T) describes the size of the original tumor.
- Node (N) indicates whether the cancer is present in the lymph nodes.
- Metastasis (M) refers to whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
A number (0-4) or the letter X is assigned to each factor. In esophageal cancer staging, as in all cancer staging, a higher number indicates increasing severity. For instance, a T1 score indicates a smaller tumor than a T2 score. The letter X means the information could not be assessed.
Once the T, N and M scores have been assigned, an overall stage is assigned.
Stages of esophageal cancer
- Stage I: The tumor is small (7 cm or less across) and limited to the esophagus (Example: T1, N0, M0).
- Stage II: The tumor has grown larger but still remains within the esophagus. In this stage of the disease, there is no evidence of spread to lymph nodes or distant sites (Example: T2, N0, M0).
- Stage III: The tumor has grown beyond the esophagus and may now extend into nearby tissues or organs. The cancer may or may not have spread to nearby lymph nodes. (Example: T1, N1, M0)
- Stage IV: The tumor may be any size and has grown beyond the esophagus. In this stage of esophageal cancer, the disease may have spread to lymph nodes or distant sites like the liver or abdominal cavity (Example: Any T, Any N, M1).
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