A qualitative synthesis of the evidence behind elective lymph node irradiation in oesophageal cancer

Published:November 25, 2014DOI:


      Background and purpose: Oesophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide and radiotherapy plays a prominent role in its treatment. The presence of lymph node (LN) metastasis has been demonstrated to be one of the most significant prognostic factors related to oesophageal cancer. The use of elective lymph node irradiation (ENI) is still a topic of persistent controversy. The conservative school is to irradiate positive lymph nodes only; the other school is to prophylactically irradiate the regional lymph node area according to different tumour sites. This review investigated the justification for including ENI in the treatment of patients with oesophageal cancer. Material and methods: We performed a systematic literature search to find surgical data about lymph node distribution depending on different tumour subgroups: early, cervical, thoracic and gastroesophageal junction cancer. Furthermore, we performed a qualitative assessment of recurrence patterns in patients treated with or without ENI to derive estimates of the potential area at risk for lymph node harvest. Results: We identified and reviewed 49 studies: 10 in early, 8 in cervical, 10 in thoracic and the remaining 21 in gastroesophageal junction cancer. In general, these studies were conclusive in incidence and location of pathologic lymph nodes for different subgroups. Data for lymph node recurrence patterns are scarce and contributed little to our review. Conclusions: This review resulted in five recommendations for radiation oncologists in daily practice. We used the available evidence about metastatic lymph node distribution to develop a careful reasonable radiation protocol for the corresponding tumour subgroups.


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