This study aimed to evaluate the long-term effect of esophagectomy in patients with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) by comparing the chemoradiotherapy (CRT)-only group and the trimodality treatment (TMT) group who received concurrent CRT followed by surgery.
We included 412 operable ESCC patients treated with TMT or CRT between January 2005 and December 2015. The oncological outcomes of the two groups were compared using a weighted Cox proportional-hazards model with inverse probability of treatment weighting (IPTW).
The median survival time was 64 and 32 months in the TMT (n=270) and CRT (n=142) groups, respectively (p < 0.001). After IPTW, the median overall survival (OS) remained significantly higher in the TMT group than in the CRT group (61 months vs. 32 months, p=0.016). Moreover, the TMT group showed a better local recurrence-free rate (LRFR, p < 0.001) and distant metastasis-free rate (p=0.007). In the subgroup of patients with clinical complete response (cCR), the OS was not significantly different between the two groups, both before and after IPTW adjustment (p=0.35 and p=0.93). However, among non-cCR patients, the OS was significantly higher in the TMT group (64% vs. 45%, p < 0.001).
In patients with locally advanced ESCC, TMT was superior to CRT in terms of OS and LRFR. Such difference was more prominent in the non-cCR subgroup. In patients who achieved cCR, esophagectomy was effective in improving LRFR but not OS, suggesting that esophagectomy may be omitted in complete responders.