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Esophageal Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview


Surgical treatment of resectable esophageal cancers results in 5-year survival rates of 5% to 30%, with higher survival rates in patients with early-stage cancers. This is associated with a less than 10% operative mortality rate.[11] In an attempt to avoid this perioperative mortality and to relieve dysphagia, definitive radiation therapy in combination with chemotherapy has been studied. A Radiation Therapy Oncology Group randomized trial (RTOG-8501) of chemotherapy and radiation therapy versus radiation therapy alone resulted in an improvement in 5-year survival for the combined modality group (27% vs. 0%).[12][Level of evidence: 1iiA] An eight-year follow-up of this trial demonstrated an overall survival (OS) rate of 22% for patients receiving chemoradiation therapy.[12] An Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group trial (EST-1282) of 135 patients showed that chemotherapy plus radiation provided a better 2-year survival rate than radiation therapy alone,[13] which was similar to that shown in the Intergroup trial.[12][Level of evidence: 1iiA] In an attempt to improve upon the results of RTOG-8501, Intergroup-0123 (RTOG-9405) randomly assigned 236 patients with localized esophageal tumors to chemoradiation with high-dose radiation therapy (64.8 Gy) and four monthly cycles of fluorouracil (5-FU) and cisplatin versus conventional-dose radiation therapy (50.4 Gy) and the same chemotherapy schedule.[14] Although originally designed to accrue 298 patients, this trial was closed in 1999 after a planned interim analysis showed that it was statistically unlikely that there would be any advantage to using high-dose radiation. At 2 years' median follow-up, no statistical differences were observed between the high-dose and conventional-dose radiation therapy arms in median survival (13 months vs. 18 months), 2-year survival (31% vs. 40%), or local/regional failures (56% vs. 52%).[14][Level of evidence: 1iiA]

Preoperative Chemoradiation Therapy

Chemoradiation followed by surgery is a standard treatment option for patients with stages IB, II, III, and IVA esophageal cancer, based on the results of several randomized trials.

The ongoing CROSS study randomly assigned 366 patients with resectable esophageal or junctional cancers to receive either surgery alone or weekly administration of carboplatin (dose titrated to achieve an AUC [area under the curve] of 2 mg/mL/minute) and paclitaxel (50 mg/m2 of BSA [body surface area]) and concurrent radiation therapy (41.4 Gy in 23 fractions) administered over 5 weeks.[15][Level of evidence: 1iiA] The majority of the patients enrolled in the study have adenocarcinoma (75%).

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