A positive circumferential resection margin (CRM) has been associated with a poorer prognosis in oesophageal and oesophagogastric junctional (OGJ) cancer. The College of American Pathologists defines the CRM as positive if tumour cells are present at the margin, whereas the Royal College of Pathologists also include tumour cells within 1 mm of this margin. The relevance of these differences is not clear and no study has investigated the impact of adjuvant therapy. The aim was to identify the optimal definition of an involved CRM in patients undergoing resection for oesophageal or OGJ cancer, and to determine whether adjuvant radiotherapy improved survival in patients with an involved CRM.
This was a single-centre retrospective study of patients who had undergone attempted curative resection for a pathological T3 oesophageal or OGJ cancer. Clinicopathological variables and distance from the tumour to the CRM, measured to ± 0.1 mm, were correlated with survival.
A total of 226 patients were included. Sex (P = 0·018), tumour differentiation (P = 0·019), lymph node status (P < 0·001), number of positive nodes (P < 0·001), and CRM distance (P = 0·042) were independently predictive of prognosis. No significant survival difference was observed between positive CRM 0-mm and 0·1–0·9-mm groups after controlling for other prognostic variables. Both groups had poorer survival than matched patients with a CRM at least 1 mm clear of tumour cells. Among patients with a positive CRM of less than 1 mm, those undergoing observation alone had a median survival of 18·6 months, whereas survival was a median of 10 months longer in patients undergoing adjuvant radiotherapy, but otherwise matched for prognostic variables (P = 0·009).
A positive CRM of 1 mm or less should be regarded as involved. Adjuvant radiotherapy confers a significant survival benefit in selected patients with an involved CRM.