The significance of esophageal tumor length has been evaluated in 133 patients with pT1 adenocarcinoma of the esophagus who were undergoing esophageal resection. Patients with early-stage pT1 tumors longer than 3 cm demonstrated decreased long-term survival and higher risk of LN involvement (P<.001). Multivariable analysis showed that esophageal tumor length greater than 3 cm is an independent risk factor for survival in patients with pT1 early-stage esophageal cancer
(P<.001) even when controlled for submucosal involvement, LN involvement, and lymphatic/vascular invasion status. In combination with submucosal involvement, esophageal tumor length greater than 3 cm identified a high-risk population of pT1 esophageal adenocarcinoma.
How Esophageal Cancers Are Staged at Our Institution
Our current approach includes the use of routine CT and PET/CT prior to any other testing to rule out distant metastases and to help localize LN spread. Following this, EUS with possible FNA guided to the suspicious LN lesion is employed. If the suspicious node or nodes are positive, this will allow careful planning of the radiation fields as well as indicate the use of neoadjuvant chemoradiation as opposed to chemotherapy alone. Following the imaging studies, a staging thoracosocpy and/or laparoscopy can be done to confirm early-stage disease if LNs are negative—or to insure that positive LNs are included in the radiation field.
Recent articles on esophagectomy have stressed the importance of high-volume, high-quality surgeons and centers. The ability of the promotion of hospital adoption of evidence-based, procedure-specific process measures to improve surgical outcomes was analyzed (eg, routine beta-blockade was studied in 2,780 esophagectomies, 6,267 gastrectomies, and 10,210 lobectomies). Leapfrog standards had no effect on adjusted mortality rates for these high-risk operations, including esophagectomy and gastrectomy (P>.05). The improvements in outcomes that have resulted from the adoption of evidence-based process measures are procedure-specific and do not necessarily reflect overall hospital quality. The benefit of centralization of specialized surgical treatment of upper gastrointestinal cancers in high-volume centers was analyzed in patients in Scotland undergoing esophagectomy and gastrectomy. Hospital mortality rates declined during the study period: in esophagectomy, from 11.7% to 7.9%; in gastrectomy, from 11.2% to 7.2%. For all resections except gastrectomy, mortality decreased as the quartile of hospital-year volume increased. For esophagectomy, the odds ratios of death were lower (P=.009) in hospital years within the highest-volume quartiles than they were in years within the lowest-volume quartile.
An association between higher surgeon volume and improved patient outcomes was reported when procedures with strong surgeon volume–outcome associations in the literature, including esophagectomy and gastrectomy, were studied. There was a significant increase in the proportion of procedures performed by high-volume surgeons over time, with the most dramatic increases seen for gastrectomy (54%).
The use of minimally invasive approaches to esophageal cancer resection, although an attractive alternative to traditional open surgery, raises concerns regarding feasibility, safety, cost, and outcomes; widespread acceptance of these procedures has thus been limited. In a recent study, inpatient mortality and overall surgical morbidity were identical for both the transthoracic open (TTO) cohort and the minimally invasive (MIE) cohort: mortality, 3% versus 2%; morbidity, 50% versus 48%. Pulmonary-related complications were higher in the TTO group (23% versus 8%; P=.05). The incidence of gastric conduit–related complications was similar in the two cohorts (13% versus 18%; P=.52). Survival at 1 and 2 years was 86% and 58%, respectively, in the TTO group and 94% and 74%, respectively, in the MIE group.
A recent report reviewed the records of 750 patients who underwent transhiatal esophagectomy (THE), including 690 (92%) who had malignancies (5.2% located in the upper esophagus, 7.4% in the middle esophagus, 19% in the lower esophagus, and 68.4% at the cardioesophageal junction). The overall in-hospital mortality rate was 2.93% (22 patients). There were no intraoperative deaths. Major complications included atelectasis or pneumonia (4.8%), pleural effusion (22.7%), myocardial infarction (0.5%), recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis (1.33%), and tracheal laceration (0.4%). The anastamotic leak rate decreased gradually over time from 29.4% to 11.1% in the last 6 years. The average intraoperative blood loss was 315 mL, and 82% of the patients did not receive any blood transfusion. Late functional results were good or excellent in 93% of cases. The average length of hospital stay was 11 days, and the average intensive care unit stay was 2.3 days. The actuarial 5-year survival rate after THE for carcinoma was 21%.
Use of Preoperative and Postoperative Therapy
Following the Walsh trial and the subsequent Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) 9781 randomized trial, chemoradiation is apparently being used as the standard of care for locally advanced esophageal cancer—at least in the United States. Further evidence of the value of neoadjuvant therapy in esophageal cancer was provided recently by a single-institution study from Spain. This was a prospective trial of neoadjuvant chemotherapy and concomitant chemoradiotherapy with cisplatin(Drug information on cisplatin)um (CDDP), 5 fluorouracil(Drug information on fluorouracil) (5-FU), and 50.4 Gy of external radiotherapy before possible radical surgery in patients with locally advanced resectable esophageal cancer. A second-phase radiotherapy boost of 10 Gy and one cycle of modified-dose chemotherapy were used. Of 73 patients with predominantly (83%) squamous cell carcinoma and advanced locoregional disease (36% stage II, 54% stage III, and 47% local LN), 54% demonstated a response. Twenty-five of the patients proceeded to surgery, and radical resection was performed in 24. The complete pathological response rate was 32%. There were 7 postoperative deaths. Of the 34 patients who did not have surgery, 11 received the second-phase boost. Median OS was 10.3 months. The 2-year and 5-year OS were 22% and 16%, respectively. The only prognostic factor in OS was the clinical complete response rate: 13.9 versus 7.7 months (P=.0049).
A recent meta-analysis showed a significant benefit for trimodality therapy in esophageal cancer. Eleven randomized controlled trials that included 1,308 patients showed that neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy significantly improved OS compared with surgery alone. The odds ratio was 1.28 (P=.05) for 1-year survival, 1.78 (P=.004) for 3-year survival, and 1.46 (P=.02) for 5-year survival. Postoperative mortality was greater in the patients treated with neodjuvant chemoradiotherapy (P=.04), but postoperative complications were similar in the two groups. Neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy lowered the incidence of locoregional cancer recurrence (P=.04); the incidence of distant cancer recurrence was similar in the two groups. Squamous cell carcinoma did not benefit from neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy in this study: the odds ratio was 1.16 (P=.34) for 1-year survival, 1.34 (P=.07) for 3-year survival, and 1.41 (P=.06) for 5-year survival.
The value of adding targeted therapy to treatment of esophageal cancer was discussed in a paper from the Cleveland Clinic. Gefitinib(Drug information on gefitinib) (Iressa) was added to concurrent chemoradiotherapy (CCRT) for locoregionally advanced esophageal/GEJ cancer to reduce distant metastases in patients with T3, N1, or M1a disease staged by EUS and PET/CT. A total of 80 patients were enrolled; they received continuous IV cisplatin (20 mg/m2/d) for 4 days and 5-FU (1000 mg/m2/d) on day 1 of preoperative radiation (30 Gy /1.5 Gy bid). Surgery followed in 4 to 6 weeks, and an identical course of CCRT was given 6 to 10 weeks postoperatively. Gefitinib, 250 mg/d, was given with preoperative CCRT for 4 weeks and restarted with postoperative therapy and continued for 2 years. Gefitinib did not increase toxicity except for the development of rash in 42 patients (53%) and diarrhea in 44 (55%). OS was improved (42% versus 28%, P=.06). Intolerance of gefitinib maintenance occurred in 48% of patients; those who experienced diarrhea appeared to have better outcomes.
Although postoperative radiation for esophageal cancer is offered in selected cases, there is conflicting evidence as to whether it improves OS. Patients with T3-4,N0,M0 or T1-4,N1,M0 esophageal adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma who were definitively treated with esophagectomy, with or without postoperative radiation, were evaluated in a recent study. The 1046 study participants included 683 (65.3%) who were treated with surgery alone and 363 (34.7%) who also received postoperative radiation. There was significant improvement in median and 3-year OS (P<.001) and DSS (P<.001), for both stage III squamous cell carcinoma and stage III adenocarcinoma.
A phase III study by Stahl and colleagues demonstrated that preoperative chemotherapy alone may not be an adequate approach for patients with resectable GEJ adenocarcinomas. A recent phase II study published by Starling and colleagues evaluated an approach in which patients received preoperative chemotherapy with epirubicin, cisplatin, and capecitabine (Xeloda). The primary endpoint of the study was pathological complete response. The study was discontinued early because the primary endpoint had not been met at the time of the interim analysis. Of 28 evaluable patients, the response rate was estimated to be 46%. Subsequently, 76% of these patients underwent resection, with 73% undergoing an R0 resection and 27% undergoing R1 resection. The pathological complete response rate was only 5.9% in the intent-to-treat population. These results are similar to those obtained by others and indicate that for patients with distal esophageal or GEJ adenocarcinomas, the standard of care should be combined modality treatment when a neoadjuvant approach is pursued. If radiation therapy is not included preoperatively, then additional chemotherapy after resection should be administered.
The current standard of care for stage II and III esophageal cancer appears to be neoadjuvant chemoradiation consisting of a variety of chemotherapy regimens in conjunction with full-dose radiation therapy. This approach has made it possible to deliver the full dose of treatment up front and also results in a reasonable pathological complete response rate. A stage-specific approach to esophageal cancer can result in better outcomes.
Financial Disclosure: The author has no significant financial interests or other relationships with the manufacturers of any products or providers of any service mentioned in this article.