• Of 77 patients with potentially resectable squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus who were asked to participate in a phase III trial of treatment with either immediate surgery (n=24) or surgery plus preoperative chemotherapy (n=22), only 46 agreed to randomization. A priori, 13 patients chose chemotherapy before surgery and 18 patients chose surgery only. The complete chemotherapy program consisted of three cycles with fluorouracil, 1 g/m2 per day for 5 days, and cisplatin, 20 mg/m2 per day for 5 days. The response rate to chemotherapy was 50% (17 of 34 patients). Side effects of therapy were higher than expected based on results of previous phase II studies. Two drug-related deaths were observed. The resectability rate for patients in the surgery only group was 79% (33 of 42 patients) compared with 70% (19 of 27 patients) for patients receiving chemotherapy. The postoperative rates of septic complications (41% [11 of 27 patients] vs 26% [11 of 42 patients]) and respiratory disorders (48% [13 of 27 patients] vs 31% [13 of 42 patients]) were higher for patients with preoperative chemotherapy than for those treated with surgery only. Surgery-related mortality was increased in the chemotherapy group (19% [five of 27 patients]) compared with the surgery only group (10% [four of 42 patients]). Patients responding to preoperative chemotherapy had prolonged survival (median, 13 months) compared with nonresponders (median, 5 months), but the median survival for the chemotherapy group and the surgery only group was identical (10 months). We conclude that the preoperative chemotherapy regime used in this multiinstitutional trial neither influences resectability nor increases the overall survival of patients with localized esophageal cancer. However, preoperative chemotherapy is associated with considerable side effects and a high postoperative mortality rate.
(Arch Surg. 1992;127:1446-1450)