Background: Clinical outcomes appear to differ between patients with residual or recurrent esophageal cancer after definitive chemoradiotherapy. We aimed to identify the patients most likely to benefit from this high-risk surgery, divided by the patients whose cancer was residual and recurrent groups, respectively. Methods: We retrospectively examined 100 cases of patients who failed to respond to definitive chemoradiotherapy for thoracic esophageal squamous cell carcinoma and subsequently underwent salvage transthoracic esophagectomy. Results: In-hospital morbidity was similar in both groups. T status prior to administration of chemoradiotherapy correlated with survival in the group with residual cancer (P = 0.010), but this relationship was not significant in the group with recurrent cancer (P = 0.635). On the other hand, pathological T status showed a significant correlation with survival in both the residual (P < 0.001) and recurrent groups (P = 0.001). Patients with T3 disease in the recurrent group showed better survival, similar to T0-2 patients, while worse survival was demonstrated in the residual group. In the recurrent group, N status before chemoradiotherapy did not correlate with survival (P = 0.895). Conclusions: Patients with residual cancer would have good prognosis by salvage esophagectomy in cases in which the cancer had not invaded to the adventitia at the time of chemoradiotherapy and surgery. Conversely, patients whose cancer was recurrent might benefit from salvage surgery if the cancer appears to be resectable. T and N status before chemoradiotherapy are not important factors in consideration of salvage esophagectomy in cases of recurrent cancer.
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