For persons who have been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, initial treatment often involves surgery or radiation therapy, sometimes with chemotherapy. For those with advanced disease, surgeons may not be able to remove all of the cancer; therefore, radiation therapy (often with chemotherapy) becomes the preferred approach. However, researchers in Hong Kong recently reported that, even though surgery may not cure persons with advanced esophageal cancer, it may still produce relief from symptoms and improved quality of life.
Thirty-nine persons with advanced cancer of the esophagus underwent surgery to relieve the symptoms of disease. All patients had some cancer remaining after the surgery. The symptoms and quality of life were then compared between this group and a control group of 49 persons in whom all detectable cancer was removed via surgery. The results indicated that both groups showed improvement in the quality and quantity of food eaten and a reduction in the severity of eating-related symptoms. After 9 months, persons who could not have all the cancer removed via surgery did have more pain and a diminished quality of life compared with those in the control group; however, there were still no differences in sleep, leisure activity, or performance scores between the 2 groups.
These researchers concluded that surgery may indeed reduce the symptoms of disease in many persons with cancer of the esophagus that cannot be completely removed by surgery. Persons with advanced esophageal cancer may also wish to talk with their doctor about the risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial in which new treatments are being studied. Sources of information on ongoing clinical trials that can be discussed with a doctor include a comprehensive, easy-to-use service provided by the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and the Clinical Trials section and service offered by CancerConnect
(cancerconnect.com). (Archives of Surgery, Vol 133, No 3, pp 316-322, 1998)