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.
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.
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).
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.