Small cell carcinoma of the esophagus: a multicentre Rare Cancer Network study


Dr Bertrand Vos, MD, Gastroenterology and Hepato-Pancreatology Department, Erasme Hospital, Route de Lennik, 808, 1070 Brussels, Belgium. Email:


Small cell carcinoma of the esophagus (SCCE) is a rare and aggressive malignant tumor with a poor prognosis. The aims of this retrospective study were to analyze the epidemiology, clinical characteristics, and treatment outcomes of these patients. Between 1994 and 2004, 24 patients with SCCE from several centers were reviewed for data on demographics, presenting symptoms, diagnosis, disease stage, type of treatment, and outcome. SCCE occurs in the sixth decade: median age (interquartile range [IQR]): 65 (59–69) years with a male predominance (63%). The most common complaining symptoms were rapidly progressive dysphagia (79%), weight loss (54%), and retrosternal/epigastric pain (46%). The tumor arises primarily in the middle (52%) or in the lower (35%) third of the esophagus. History of tobacco and alcohol exposure was present in 90% and 70% of case, respectively. Extensive disease was present in 13 cases (54%) at initial diagnosis.

The overall median survival (IQR) was 11 (8–20) months for all 24 patients, and the 2-year overall survival was 25.1%. Four patients were alive more than 2 years after treatment. Chemotherapy increased the survival compared with symptomatic management in extensive disease (median survival [IQR]: 9.5 [6–14] vs. 6 [4–7] months, P= 0.05). In limited disease, concurrent chemo-radiotherapy was more effective than non-concurrent treatment (median survival [IQR]: 36 [14–93] vs. 11 [9–15] months, P= 0.04). Two patients were treated by surgery and chemoradiation therapy with a survival of 35 and 66 months. Chemotherapy is the cornerstone of treatment of SCCE in all stage. For limited disease SCCE, concurrent chemo-radiotherapy is the primary choice compared with sequential approach. The role of surgery was not assessable in our study.