What is the role of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, radiation, and adjuvant treatment in resectable esophageal cancer?
The majority of patients with operable esophageal cancers present with locally advanced disease, for which surgical resection as a sole treatment modality has been historically associated with poor survival. Even following radical resection, most of these patients will eventually succumb to their disease due to distant metastasis. For this reason, there has been intense interest in the role of neoadjuvant therapy. Neoadjuvant therapy primarily consists of either chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or a combination of the two. Multiple studies of variable scope, design, and patient characteristics have been conducted to determine whether neoadjuvant therapy is warranted, and—if so—what is the best modality of treatment. Despite nearly three decades of study, decisions regarding neoadjuvant therapy for esophageal cancer remain controversial. Regardless, the available evidence provided by large, prospective studies supports preoperative chemotherapy as opposed to surgery alone. Therefore, in our opinion, there is no longer any question as to whether induction therapy is appropriate for locally advanced esophageal cancer. Less clear, however, is the evidence that the addition of radiation to chemotherapy in the preoperative setting is superior to neoadjuvant chemotherapy alone. Our group generally advocates for neoadjuvant chemotherapy alone followed by radical esophageal resection. The data for adjuvant therapy are soft, and particularly troubling is the high rate of treatment drop out in trials studying adjuvant therapy. Therefore, we strongly prefer neoadjuvant chemotherapy and reserve adjuvant chemotherapy for those rare, highly selected patients—patients with T1 tumors, for example—who do not receive neoadjuvant treatment and are found to have occult nodal disease at the time of surgery.