Introduction: After definitive treatment of esophageal cancer, patients are at high risk for recurrence. Consistent follow-up is important for detection and treatment of recurrence. The optimal surveillance regimen remains undefined. We investigated posttreatment recurrence patterns and methods of detection in survivors of esophageal cancer.
Methods: We retrospectively studied a cohort of patients who had undergone surgical resection for esophageal cancer at our institution between 1996 and 2010. Routine computed tomography scan and upper endoscopy were performed for surveillance.
Results: In total, 1147 patients with resected esophageal adenocarcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma were included (median follow-up, 46 months). Of these, 723 patients (63%) had received neoadjuvant therapy before surgery. During follow-up, there were 595 deaths (52%) and 435 recurrences (38%) (distant [55%], locoregional [28%], or both [17%]). Half of recurrences were detected as a result of symptoms (n = 217), 45% by routine chest and abdominal computed tomography scan (n = 194), and 1% by surveillance upper endoscopy (n = 6). The recurrence rate decreased from 27 per 100 person-years in posttreatment year 1 to 4 per 100 person-years in year 6. In the first 2 years, the rate of recurrence was higher among patients who had received neoadjuvant therapy (35 per 100 person-years) than among those who had not (14 per 100 person-years) (p < 0.001).
Conclusions: The incidence of recurrence is high after esophagectomy for cancer. Surveillance endoscopy has limited value for detection of asymptomatic local recurrence. The yield from follow-up scans diminishes significantly after the sixth year; surveillance scans after that point are likely unnecessary.