If your doctor or general practitioner (GP) suspects that you have oesophageal or stomach cancer, they will examine you and refer you for further tests.
The main tests for diagnosing stomach and oesophageal cancers are endoscopy and a biopsy (the removal of a tissue sample).
Endoscopy and biopsy
An endoscopy (also called a gastroscopy, oesophagoscopy or upper endoscopy) allows your doctor to see inside your digestive tract to examine the lining. This test is usually performed as day surgery.
You will likely be asked not to eat or drink (fast) for about 4 to 6 hours before an endoscopy.
Before the procedure, your throat will be sprayed with a local anaesthetic and you will probably be given a sedative to help you relax. A flexible tube with a light and small camera on the end (endoscope) will then be passed into your mouth, down your throat and oesophagus, and into your stomach. If the doctor sees any suspicious-looking areas, they may remove a small amount of tissue from the stomach or oesophageal lining. This is known as a biopsy.
A pathologist will examine the tissue under a microscope to check for signs of disease. Biopsy results are usually available within a few days. This waiting period can be an anxious time and it may help to talk to a relative, supportive friend or health professional about how you are feeling.
An endoscopy can take around 15 minutes. You may have a sore throat afterwards and feel a little bloated. Endoscopies have some risks, such as bleeding or getting a small tear or hole in the stomach or oesophagus (perforation). Your doctor should explain all the risks before asking you to consent to the procedure.
Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
You may have an endoscopic ultrasound at the same time as a standard endoscopy. The doctor will insert an endoscope with an ultrasound probe on the end. The probe releases soundwaves, which echo when they bounce off anything solid, such as an organ or tumour. This procedure helps determine whether the cancer has spread into the oesophageal wall, nearby tissues or lymph nodes, and whether you are a suitable candidate for surgery. During the scan, your doctor may take further tissue samples from the oesophagus, lymph nodes and nearby organs.
If the biopsy shows you have stomach or oesophageal cancer, you will have a number of other tests to find out whether the cancer has spread to other areas of your body.
For more information please talk to your doctor or health care professional.
For support and information on cancer and cancer-related issues, call Cancer Council 13 11 20. This is a confidential service.
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