Improved Overall Survival with Aggressive Primary Tumor Radiotherapy for Patients with Metastatic Esophageal Cancer

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The aim of this study was to characterize utilization and survival outcomes associated with primary tumor–directed radiotherapy (PTDRT) in patients with newly diagnosed metastatic esophageal cancer.


We conducted an observational cohort study using the National Cancer Data Base to evaluate patients with newly diagnosed metastatic esophageal cancer between 2004 and 2012. Overall survival outcomes after treatment with chemotherapy plus conventional palliative dose radiotherapy (<5040 cGy), chemotherapy plus definitive dose radiotherapy (≥5040 cGy), or chemotherapy alone were compared by using Cox proportional hazards models with inverse probability of treatment weighting using the propensity score. Potential unmeasured confounding was assessed through sensitivity analyses.


The final cohort consisted of 12,683 patients: 57% were treated with chemotherapy alone, 24% were treated with chemotherapy plus palliative dose radiotherapy, and 19% were treated with chemotherapy plus definitive dose radiotherapy. Compared with chemotherapy alone, chemotherapy plus definitive dose radiotherapy was associated with improved survival (median overall survival of 8.3 versus 11.3 months [hazard ratio = 0.72, 95% confidence interval: 0.70–0.74, p ≤ 0.001]), whereas chemotherapy plus palliative dose radiotherapy was associated with slightly inferior outcomes (median overall survival of 8.3 months versus 7.5 months (hazard ratio = 1.10, 95% confidence interval 1.07–1.13, p ≤ 0.001). These findings were robust to potential unmeasured confounding in sensitivity analyses. Additionally, landmark analyses confirmed these findings in patients surviving 12 months or longer.


Definitive dose, but not conventional palliative dose, PTDRT is associated with improved overall survival in metastatic esophageal cancer, suggesting that local control may be important to prognosis. These findings support integrating PTDRT into future clinical trials aimed at refining personalized treatment for patients with metastatic esophageal cancer.

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