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ABSTRACT: Any attempt to define the present role of surgery in the treatment of oesophageal cancer should integrate the dramatic changes that occurred within this disease over the last 2 decades: major shift in the histologic type of tumours, improved staging methods, spectacular reduction of operative risks, standardization of oncologic principles focusing on the completeness of resection, and development of multimodality therapeutic strategies. Surgery has still a pivotal role. Esophagectomy should be performed by trained surgeons in high-volume institutions. Radical surgery with en-bloc resection and 2 fields lymphadenectomy, should be encouraged in low-risk patients with subcarinal tumors. Although multimodality treatment strategy is commonly applied for locally advanced disease, few data support its superiority over surgical resection alone, followed by adjuvant therapy when appropriate. One may thus hypothesize that the risk/benefit ratio of such strategies is probably optimal in case of early stage tumors, and future studies may further clarify this issue. Conversely, locally advanced tumors, particularily those located in the upper mediastinum and the neck, may be managed alternatively without surgery. However, surgery remains an important tool to ensure optimal palliation of dysphagia, to achieve local control, and finally to improve quality of life. In that way, video-assisted techniques and/or trans hiatal approaches aiming to minimize the surgical insult may have a place in the treatment of patients who have substantially responded to induction therapy. Tumors located close to the pharyngo-oesophageal junction are best managed with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Finally, salvage surgery may be considered in highly selected patients in case of non-response or local relapse without distant metastases.
Annales de Chirurgie. 01/2003;