Background: Clinical nodal (cN) staging is a key element in treatment decisions in patients with esophageal cancer (EC). The reliability of cN status regarding the effect on response and survival after neoadjuvant chemoradiotherapy (nCRT) with esophagectomy was evaluated in determining the up- and downstaged pathological nodal (pN) status after surgery alone. Material and methods: From a prospective database, we included all 395 EC patients who had surgery with curative intent with or without nCRT between 2000 and 2015. All patients were staged by a standard pretreatment protocol: 16-64 mdCT, 18 F-FDG-PET or 18 F-FDG-PET/CT and EUS +/- FNA. After propensity score matching on baseline clinical tumor and nodal (cT/N) stage and histopathology, a surgery-alone and nCRT group (each N = 135) were formed. Clinical and pathological N stage was scored as equal (cN = pN), downstaged (cN > pN) or upstaged (cN <pN). Prognostic impact on disease free survival (DFS) was assessed with multivariable Cox regression analysis (factors with p value pN) occurred more often than understaging impeding an adequate assessment of pathologic complete response and prognosis after nCRT.
Synopsis Preoperative assessment of true nodal response after nCRT in EC remains difficult with clinical nodal upstaging (16% vs. 43%) and downstaging (56% vs. 25%) after nCRT and surgery alone, respectively.