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Keywords:

  • esophageal cancer;
  • palliation;
  • retrospective study;
  • survival

SUMMARY

In a retrospective review, in order to describe the palliative care and prognosis of patients with advanced cancer of the esophagus, the clinical characteristics and the treatment modalities applied were explored in relation to survival and symptom relief for 261 patients treated without curative potential. The data were obtained from a study of all patients with cancer of the esophagus treated at the Norwegian Radium Hospital in the 10-year period from 1990 to 1999. Medical data of the patients were reviewed and missing clinical information was retrieved from local hospitals and general practitioners. The patients were divided into three groups based upon the overall survival from start of treatment to death. Survival ≤3 months is in this paper, defined as ‘short,’ while survival > 6 months is defined as ‘long.’ Median survival for the total group of patients was 4 months. The 1-, 2-, and 3-year survival was 8%, 3%, and 1%, respectively. Patients with short survival (n= 107) had more advanced disease, lower performance status, and more dysphagia, weight loss, and pain and used more analgesics than patients with long survival (n= 91). Tumor characteristics such as localization, tumor length, and histology were not significantly associated with survival. This result was confirmed in a logistic regression analysis (with backward stepwise elimination) including sex, age, clinical stage, tumor length, tumor localization, histology, performance status, dysphagia, weight loss, and pain, where clinical stage, performance status, weight loss, and pain were included in the final model. A large variety of first-line palliative treatments were applied within the studied time period; external radiotherapy ± brachytherapy (n= 149), brachytherapy alone (n= 44), endoluminal stent (n= 28), laser evaporization (n= 8), chemotherapy (n= 5), and best supportive care only (n= 27). There were no clear differences in the effect on dysphagia between the modalities. Fourteen percent of the patients had treatment related complications. In conclusion, symptoms, performance status, and use of analgesics seemed to better prognosticate survival than tumor characteristics other than stage of disease. Our study reveals that knowledge about prognostic factors is crucial for the choice of palliative treatment. Even though all of the different treatment modalities seemed to provide relief of dysphagia, several other factors should be considered when deciding which treatment modality to offer. The time to onset of relief, duration of response, level of complications, and time spent in hospital should be a part of the decision-making process when selecting the appropriate treatment.