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There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell cancer and adenocarcinoma.
Squamous cell cancer arises from the cells that line the upper part of the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma arises from Barrett's esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus occurs when the squamous cells in the lower esophagus are exposed to acid from the stomach due to acid reflux. The acid causes the cells to change from squamous cells, which are flat, to cells shaped like columns. These column-shaped cells are the hallmark of Barrett's esophagus, and can eventually become an adenocarcinoma.
Diagnostic tests include:
- Chest X - an x-ray of the chest area
- Upper GI Series - series of x-rays of the esophagus and stomach taken after drinking a barium solution (also called barium swallow)
- Esophagoscopy - examination of the esophagus using a lighted scope
- Biopsy - removal of a small sample of esophageal tissue to test for cancer cells
- CT/PET Scan - a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body