Prognostic significance of a positive radial margin after esophageal cancer resection

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The prognostic significance of an incomplete esophageal cancer resection due to a positive microscopic radial margin remains unclear. The aim of this study is to examine the relationship between radial margin status and oncologic outcomes.


We performed a retrospective review of esophageal cancer resections between 2004 and 2012. Radial margin status was defined according to the College of American Pathologists. Exclusion criteria were complete pathologic response (n = 12), positive proximal or distal margin (n = 11), R2 resection (n = 5), and carcinoma in situ (n = 2).


Of 154 patients, 30 (19%) had a positive radial margin (RM+) and 124 (81%) had a complete resection (R0). The 2 groups were similar with respect to age, gender, proportion of squamous tumors, middle thoracic tumor location, rate of neoadjuvant chemoradiation and adjuvant radiation, transhiatal approach, number of examined lymph nodes, and length of proximal and distal margins. In patients with stage III, the locoregional recurrence-free interval was similar between groups; however, RM+ was associated with a 17-month decrease in the median time to distant recurrence (RM+ = 7 months [95% confidence interval, 4-14]; R0 = 24 months [median not reached]; P < .01). The median survival was also significantly decreased by 12 months in the RM+ group (RM+ = 13 months [95% confidence interval, 7-26]; R0 = 25 months [95% confidence interval, 20-30]; P = .04).


An isolated, positive microscopic radial margin was associated with a greater risk for distant recurrence. There was no impact on locoregional disease control. The role of adjuvant, systemic therapy in patients with an isolated, microscopically RM+ merits further evaluation.

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